California Voters Chose to Make Budget Crisis Worse

The real takeaway from last night: Californians want to make the state's budget crisis worse.

Maybe that wasn't voters' intention, but it has been the practical effect of their votes over the last two years. In May 2009, Californians turned down five budget-balancing measures -- thus blowing a $6 billion hole in the state budget that has yet to be filled.

And in yesterday's elections, Californians voted to make the budget even less balanced. Most notably, Prop 22, a measure that guarantees local governments certain funds in the short term no matter what is happening with the state budget, will make balancing budgets more difficult in the long term and in the short term. The proposition blows a $1 billion dollar hole in the budget because of a change that puts the state on the hook directly for certain kinds of transportation bonds.

Prop 26 also makes budget balancing more difficult by enacting a new two-thirds supermajority for raising fees -- on top of a system of supermajorities that cover tax increases, education spending, and other budget items. This measure not only will make it harder to find revenues to balance the budget -- but it may repeal some existing fees.

Good news? Well, some budget reformers are celebrating the passage of Prop 25, a measure that eliminates one of California's supermajorities (the one for passing budget bills).

But the measure leaves all the other supermajorities in place -- and thus preserves the dysfunctional budget dynamic that produces accounting gimmicks and questionable borrowing. The measure may even make deficits deeper by making it easier for Democrats to pass their spending priorities, while preserving Republicans' ability to block the tax increases needed to pay for that spending. 

Gov.-elect Brown and the legislature aren't facing the same old crisis that the state had before the election. They're facing a crisis that the voters have just made worse.

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