With all the talk of government reform and the possibility of a constitutional convention, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Arleta) decided there is a better way to seek a restructuring plan. Revive the recommendations of the Constitutional Revision Commission of 1996.
The commission of 23 members met for two years during the last deep fiscal crisis to hit the state. At the time, many believed that the state’s fiscal problems could best be solved by revising the way government works. Sound familiar? Instead of calling a constitutional convention, Governor Pete Wilson and legislative leaders created a commission to suggest revisions to the state’s constitution. Bill Hauck, now the president of the California Business Roundtable, chaired the commission.
Fuentes wants to take the commission’s recommendations off the shelf and give them a good hearing. He believes the recommendations could lead to important constitutional changes and improve governance in the state without resorting to a constitutional convention. He is urging the Assembly Democratic Caucus to get behind the commission’s recommendations.
The commission made numerous recommendations on improving state government accountability, the budget process, K-12 education, the relationship between state and local government and strengthening local government. Thirty-two major recommendations were made. You can read the entire report, which includes an executive summary of the recommendations, here.
Among the recommendations: Allow a majority vote for passing the budget; give new taxing authority with majority vote to local governments if they accept a Home Rule Community Charter; lengthen legislative terms of office; shorten the legislative session to six months; give more local authority to schools; run the governor and lieutenant governor as a team, and make the superintendent of public instruction, treasurer and insurance commissioner appointees of the governor.
(Full disclosure: Governor Wilson appointed me to the Revision Commission and I served during the last three months of the commission’s existence. Not time enough to be involved in many of the discussions, but time enough to write a dissent on some of the measures, particularly dealing with the tax questions.)
When asked whether the 15-year old report should be dusted off, commission chairman Hauck, said, “Some of the recommendations are timely, some are not. Work needs to be done to look at the recommendations in the current context.”
However, he was quick to add: “There’s no question that fundamental restructuring of the budget process and other aspects of the state government are long past due.”
The 1996 Revision Commission’s report was ignored as soon as it was printed. Hauck believes the reason was that the crisis had passed. The state was making a comeback from the financial doldrums that existed when the commission had been created years before.
I also believe the report was ignored because of timing. The report was delivered to the legislature and governor in the summer of an election year and no legislator wanted to deal with the controversial changes to the constitution while seeking votes to maintain their offices.
Fuentes thinks it’s about time the recommendations got some attention.