Sacto’s Budget Fallacy

The Dallas Morning News/Tom Fox, Staff Photographer

You may have heard that as a result of a ballot initiative, Prop 25, approved by voters last year, a California budget can be passed by majority vote.

You heard wrong.

A host of other fiscal rules -- including supermajority rules -- continue to protect pieces in the budget.

In fact, the largest piece of the budget, education spending, is protected by a two-thirds vote under Prop 98, the 1988 ballot initiative that established a minimum funding guarantee for schools.

This two-thirds requirement might have become highly relevant if the Democratic budget passed last week had been enacted. (Instead, it was vetoed by Gov. Brown).

That budget deferred $1 billion in education funding by majority vote, even though any suspension of the Prop 98 guarantee requires a two-thirds vote.

If the budget hadn't been vetoed, this deferral would have been the subject of a legal challenge, because of that failure to get a supermajority vote. (If you want to understand all the particulars, take a look at this post at the blog Educated Guess).

One fun irony: the education and union interests that would have sued the state to protect this two-thirds requirement are some of the very same interests who most often decry two-thirds votes that are applied to taxes, fees, and other parts of the budget.

Which is why it's unfair that Republicans get so much blame for protecting the two-thirds vote requirement for taxes.

Folks on the Democrats and the left cling to their two-thirds protections, too.

School funding is the biggest piece of the budget. And when altering the biggest piece of the budget requires a two-thirds vote, the budget itself is effectively governed by a two-thirds vote.

What does this mean?

Two things. First, forget what you hear about California having a majority vote budget.

Second, making the budget process in California manageable and understandable -- even to elites -- can't be accomplished via ballot initiatives such as Prop 25.

A real fix requires a top-to-bottom redesign of the system

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