I Told You So, Part 2: The Failure of Prop 25

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Last
October, before California voters adopted the majority vote measure Prop 25, a
brilliant, devastatingly handsome young pundit warned
in this very space
that the measure, whatever its merits, would make things
worse.

Wrote the pundit: "Prop 25 might make deficits worse and force
the state to do even more borrowing. To the extent Prop 25 were to have any
practical effect, it would threaten to deepen deficits. Consider this scenario:
the removal of the supermajority on budget bills makes it a little bit easier
for Democrats to support spending that they otherwise couldn’t get Republicans
to agree to by two-thirds vote. But Republicans still block tax increases to
pay for the additional Democratic spending."

Concluded the pundit: "The
result: more deficits, more gimmicks, more borrowing."

Last
week, with Republicans blocking taxes, Democrats passed a budget so full of
borrowing and gimmicks that Gov. Brown vetoed it.

But that’s what is wonderful about Prop 25. Yes, it made the
budget worse. But it offers a hard lesson for reformers and good government
types who insist California can be fixed one or two initiatives at a time.

That lesson is: it can’t. The budget mix of spending
mandates, tax and spending limits, special funds and supermajorities is so big
and complicated that reform must be comprehensive. A full redesign is required.
The situation is so fraught that well-intentioned people can pursue a reform
idea – i.e. Prop 25’s majority vote budget – that is the right thing to do, and
still make things worse.

The various groups out there who are
planning packages of ballot initiatives for 2012 should study Prop 25-and
rethink their entire approach. Instead of seeking change via initiatives, they
should ban together and embrace a public constitutional revision process –
either via the legislature, a revision commission or a constitutional
convention – that can start from scratch and redesign California.

The hard truth is: nothing else will
work.

Don’t believe me? Fine. You’re just
giving a young pundit future opportunities to say I told you so.

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