Too Many Rules Spoil the Budget


The core problem of California's budget system is that there are too many rules.

Too many spending mandates. Too many tax limitations. Too many rules that have a ratchet-like effect -- ratcheting down revenues and ratcheting up spending.

Too many rules make a very spoiled budget broth indeed.

The much-touted "realignment' reform efforts were supposed to be the first step in an attack on that system.

All the ratcheting had centralized power and fiscal authority in Sacramento.

Through realignment, local governments would again get responsibility over important government and budget functions. This realignment started this year with corrections and some other government functions.

Where has this reform left us? In a very dangerous place. Local governments got authority over more prisoners -- and many aren't happy. They are so unhappy that several local government groups have filed an initiative that... wait for it... imposes yet another budget rule on California.

This rule guarantees certain moneys for local governments to support new responsibilities they have under realignment. That may make some sense, until you read the fine print.

The new initiative actually blocks more realignment unless it comes with funding -- so locals don't want responsibility without money.

It imposes a new supermajority on California's supermajority-crazy budget system -- a fourth-fifth vote of the legislature would be required to reduce funding for corrections.

So a push to decentralize state government and realign services could end with an initiative that further centralizes fiscal power and puts another crippling supermajority in the budget process.

This is another example of why the piecemeal reform -- the style of reform favored by Calfornia elites of every partisan and ideological background -- won't work. When you tinker with a system as big and unruly as California's, it's very easy to make things worse.

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