Voices of Left, Right Say Initiatives Shouldn’t Have to Pay For Themselves

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The one reform of the initiative process that seems to have traction is a requirement that any initiative that demands the spending of money or the cutting of taxes must identify a source to pay for itself. Since California voters have used the initiative process to make the budget deficit bigger (including by an estimated $2 billion in November 2010 elections), some restraint seemed to make sense.

A constitutional amendment to do this has been gathering momentum in the legislature. But now come two leading voices -- consumer activist Harvey Rosenfeld from the left, and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. president Jon Coupal from the right -- to make the case that such a restraint would be used by legislators and governors to disqualify any initiative they don't like. They make the case at the Flash Report.

What Coupal and Rosenfeld don't tell you -- and don't address, to the detriment of their argument -- is that the initiative process in California is far more inflexible than in any other place on earth. Other countries and states force the process to live within the budget -- and to abide by the rules of legislation. But they suggest that attempts to make the California process more integrated with the budget and legislative systems are really attemps to limit the popular will.

There's another way to look at this: that the inflexible initiative process has been used to rob Californians of democratic power by locking up decisions on taxes, spending and regulation that can't be changed -- except by people with access to the millions and millions of dollars necessary to qualify initiatives and pursue campaigns. People such as, for example, Rosenfeld and Coupal.

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