Propositions offer terrible choicesCalifornia's budget stalemate and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression culminate in the May 19 special election, when voters will be asked to approve legislation that would never survive in better times.
We don't think there has ever been an election, special or otherwise, with such a uniformly unpalatable set of choices. All six propositions on the ballot are the result of Sacramento's deeply flawed budget and policy-making process, caused in part by term limits, the two-thirds super-majority requirement, the distorted initiative process, insulated legislative districts and an ineffective governor.
These forces, not to mention Republican legislators who refused to accept any tax increases (despite the fact that no reasonable solution was possible without them), combined to produce a months-long stalemate. Eventually, a few Republicans broke ranks to support a compromise, which included both budget cuts and the following ballot measures:
1A sends a portion of state revenues to a "rainy day fund" for use in lean years. The percentage set aside for economic downturns increases from 5 to 12.5 percent of the state's general fund. Spending is capped at a 10-year average of state revenue, adjusted for population growth and inflation. Revenue above that average goes into reserves, requiring the state in most years to put a projected 3 percent of its general fund revenues in the reserve fund, which could only be used for budget shortfalls, bond repayments and emergencies such as natural disasters, or if the governor declares a fiscal emergency. It also extends a 1 percent state sales tax increase for one year, and extends a vehicle license fee increase and top income bracket increase for two years, generating some $16 billion in revenue. The measure also authorizes the governor to make mid-year spending reductions if the budget falls out of balance.
1B requires additional payments to school districts and community colleges beginning in 2011-12 to offset recent budget cuts. Payments come from the rainy day fund established in 1A and continue until the total amount is repaid.
1C makes changes to improve performance of the state lottery and to increase payouts and proceeds. It also allows the state to borrow $5 billion against projected lottery proceeds to address the current budget deficit.
1D temporarily redirects $600 million in funds from the California Children and Families Act (1998's Proposition 10) to the general fund for support of Health and Human Services programs for children. Additionally, it diverts $268 million in 2010-11 to 2013-14. Early childhood development programs funded by the act would be cut.
1E redirects $230 million from Mental Health Services Act funds (2004's Proposition 63) for two years to existing health programs. Community mental health programs would be cut.
1F prohibits legislators and state constitutional officers from receiving pay raises when the state is running a deficit.
There are plenty of reasons for anyone from any part of the political spectrum to oppose these measures. 1A is the only proposition of the six that contains long-term structural reform of the budget process in an attempt to limit the wild revenue swings we have recently experienced. Liberals say it will deprive the state of revenue needed for important programs, while conservatives oppose it because of its built-in taxes and perceived loopholes.
On the other side are educators, including those in Mountain View, who fear the scramble for revenue if Propositions 1A and 1B fail. They see an interim period as a possible free-for-all in Sacramento as the Legislature and governor duke it out again over revenue and tax policy. Sending the whole mess back to Sacramento, where legislators already have a new multibillion-dollar shortfall to deal with, is frightening to those people concerned about funding for schools and community colleges.
If these measures are defeated, we doubt if there would be a better resolution in the near future. We recommend a yes vote on propositions 1A, 1B and 1C, because — though we don't like the measures — we believe they are necessary to keep the state finances afloat.
Proposition 1D, which takes money away from children and families, and 1E, which cuts mental health services for two years, seem draconian to us. We recommend voting no on these propositions.
Finally, we support Proposition 1F, a symbolic measure which restricts the pay of legislators and constitutional officers when the state is running a deficit, and predict it will receive the highest approval rating.
The Voice recommends:
Proposition 1A — Yes
Proposition 1B — Yes
Proposition 1C — Yes
Proposition 1D — No
Proposition 1E — No
Proposition 1F — Yes