Proposition 31 is being sold as a way to improve our budget and government processes and create more transparency. While these are laudable and important goals, Proposition 31 actually does the opposite with unintended but potentially devastating consequences for the services that all Californians rely on.
Voters have already rejected one of the proposals in Proposition 31, to greatly expand the executive authority of the governor to make cuts.
In 2005, Californians voted down Proposition 75. It would have also allowed the governor to make unilateral cuts to state spending during a fiscal emergency. Under Proposition 31, the governor would have new authority to reduce or eliminate general fund appropriations that aren't specifically mandated by federal law or the state constitution.
Such cuts could then take place without even a public hearing, or any sort of legislative oversight to speak of. There would be no way to explore the impacts, and the unintended consequences, of such cuts.
As such, Proposition 31 would severely alter the checks and balances in our state government. For a measure that is supposed to be about accountability and transparency, Proposition 31 goes in the opposite direction.
In so many ways, Proposition 31 is a measure that contradicts itself, is illogical and won't fulfill its own goals being put forth. As Mark Paul, co-author of "California Crackup," puts it, "The kind of incremental, technocratic reform offered by Prop. 31 is not the cure for California's governing dysfunction. It is the disease."
In another example, if Proposition 31 passes, local governments would be allowed to pre-empt state laws and regulations by forming a "Community Strategic Action Plan." This could negatively impact health and human services, along with environmental and labor standards.
While local flexibility is important, these provisions are so broadly worded that it would create big loopholes and hinder our ability as Californians to set and meet key state and national goals.
Another provision sounds sensible at first, putting explicit "pay as you go" limits on how new programs are paid for but it results in adding layers of bureaucracy and further complicating our state government.
This, among other reasons, is why the respected California Budget Project found that Proposition 31 "would likely result in the cost of new or expanded programs being paid for with cuts to existing services."
Yet Proposition 31 exempts itself from its own rules. Proposition 31 would allow for a permanent transfer of a portion of funds collected as part of state sales tax revenues, in order to fund "Community Strategic Action Plans." In turn, this would mean that revenues intended to fund state services would be lost.
Proposition 31 doesn't address how to offset this loss, as required by its very own "pay go" mandate. It is extremely concerning that the Legislative Analyst's Office has stated that this could end up costing our state anywhere from the "millions, to tens of millions of dollars, annually."
Proposition 31's "pay go" rule has all sorts of other exemptions, from bond debt to new programs done by initiative all that would have unintended consequences.
Additionally, Proposition 31 is only enforced through litigation. Any bills that would violate the "pay go" rule would be deemed void. This would then allow legal recourse for any interest group that wishes to nullify a bill.
It would shift our decision-making process from the Legislature to the courts.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Proposition 31 is that most of these changes over 8,000 words, longer than the U.S. Constitution would be permanently written into our state constitution. This means it would be difficult, if not impossible, to go back and revise new rules put in place. If the results of Proposition 31 are disastrous, as we predict, California could end up being stuck with an increasingly dysfunctional governmental process for a generation or more.
There's no question that California's budget and governance system would benefit from reform. But putting Proposition 31 into the state constitution would make our system less transparent, less flexible and less accountable.