A Solution to End Gridlock: Put it All on the Ballot

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

One argument made to persuade Republicans to provide the votes to put the tax extensions contained in Governor Jerry Brown’s budget on the ballot is that legislators should not prevent the people from deciding if they want to raise their own taxes.

Grover Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform, the creator of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge signed by all Republicans save two, has said that even voting to place a tax on the ballot is tantamount to breaking the anti-tax pledge.

Others counter that if constituents want to express themselves on the tax increases and extensions then the people’s representatives should not stand in their way.

Would that argument also apply to other long-term budget fixes like a spending cap or pension reform? Shouldn’t the voters have their say on those as well?

So, here’s a solution to end the gridlock: Put it all on the ballot.

Not only offer the tax increase proposals the governor is angling for, but test some of the cuts with the voters as well. While we’re at it, let’s put a spending cap and pension reform on the ballot, too. Voters maybe okay with raising taxes but only if a spending limit is in place so runaway spending doesn’t occur again.

Or, perhaps the voters don’t want to have anything to do with taxes and a spending limit but they are okay with the budget cuts and pension reform.

Putting on ideas from both sides of the ideological divide is a roll of the dice for both Democrats and Republicans. What if the voters don’t agree with their positions? At least, if multiple proposals are presented to the voters the voters won’t feel limited by their up or down vote on taxes alone.

I realize this haphazard scenario may result in some unintended consequences. Voters haven’t always crossed the i-s and dotted the t-s in approving constitutional changes. In other words, they could pass different constitutional amendments that don’t work well with each other. Strange results have occurred at the ballot box. I refer you to the last election in which voters saw fit to both reduce the two-thirds vote for budgets with Proposition 25 and add a two-thirds vote for fees with Prop 26.

Perhaps, some of the measures could be combined to undercut any ill effects. Measure A only takes effect if Measure B passes. The legislators from both sides would have to work that out in negotiations.

Under this plan, Republicans get a chance to offer proposals to the people that they can never get through the Democratic controlled legislature. If the Democrats want taxes on the ballot with Republican votes, then Democrats should vote to put a spending limit authored by Republicans on the ballot. Then let the voters decide.

As Governor Brown’s 60-day window to pass a budget narrows, a variation of this idea, as messy as it seems, may become more appealing.

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