Peter Weber

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Another View: Prop. 31 would overhaul state budget process

Published: Sunday, Sep. 2, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2E
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 10:08 pm

Peter Schrag's Aug. 17 column "Virtuous budget reform package falls short" left many people scratching their heads.

He made two contradictory claims in the same breath – that the initiative goes too far and not far enough. This is the typical refrain of partisans who support only one-sided reforms.

Let's be clear; the state budget process is hopelessly broken. The California Forward Action Fund is not the only one calling for accountable government. Voters, civic organizations and the media are all demanding transparency and oversight in the wake of weekly scandals – including hidden special funds, salary increases of legislative staffers and blacked out public hearings.

For well over a decade, California has lurched from budget crisis to budget crisis. Public services are eroding, and local governments and schools cannot plan from year to year because of budget uncertainty. The jobs California needs depend on investment, and investors don't flock to unstable, unpredictable fiscal environments.

Clearly, the status quo isn't working, and until we reduce wasteful spending by creating an accountable, transparent government, Californians will not be able to take on the bigger reforms that are needed.

That is the purpose of Proposition 31.

Proposition 31 is based on best practices in other state governments and extensive conversations with Californians. It establishes a new process for deciding how the state will spend $100 billion-plus every year – a transparent process that creates accountability for results.

Proposition 31 would require lawmakers to determine how they would pay for major new programs or tax cuts – a needed discipline in a state that has consistently overspent its revenue.

Proposition 31 would allow the governor to reduce spending in an emergency – but only if lawmakers fail to act. Proposition 31 would encourage local governments to work together to make the best use of available resources. It does not allow local governments to "ignore environmental laws and other state regulations." Rather, local governments could propose a community rule if local leaders had a better way to deliver public services than current regulations allow. It assumes state lawmakers are not the font of all wisdom and sometimes community leaders have a better way to reduce crime, poverty and unemployment.

You can ponder whether the initiative goes too far or not far enough, but Proposition 31 is the next step in the right direction.

We know it doesn't do everything. Dragon slayers pick their dragons. Proposition 31 starts with wasted money, failed programs and secrecy.

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