Perhaps, the way to fix future budget delays is to go Back to the Future. The character Marty McFly in the movie by that same name went back in time to re-adjust happenings in the past that would make life better in the future.
Since no time machine has been invented yet to change the past, maybe we should simply borrow an idea from years ago that could help with passing budgets in the future.
From 1933 to 1962, a simple majority vote to approve the state budget was required if the yearly budget increase were 5% or less. If the yearly increase was more than 5%, a two-thirds vote was required. Bringing that provision back may solve many a budget impasse and at the same time provide a reasonable spending cap.
Many complain that the requirement for a two-thirds vote to pass the budget is the cause of delayed budgets in California. Only four times in the last 30 years has the Legislature passed a budget by the June 15 deadline. Once again, they missed the deadline this year—that’s 21 years in a row.
The two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget was not a requirement of Proposition 13. How many times I have heard that incorrect “fact” charged in a debate. The two-thirds vote to pass the state budget became law in 1962.
When a two-thirds vote was required between 1933 and 1962 when the budget increase exceeded 5%, it was often easily attained so the two-thirds provision was made permanent when the constitution was “cleaned-up” of excess language in ’62.
Whether the two-thirds vote to pass the budget has worked to the citizens’ advantage is an interesting debate. By requiring a two-thirds vote, the minority party has been involved in budget discussions and minority party members’ ideas are considered.
On the other hand, as budget hawk Senator Tom McClintock has pointed out, the two-thirds vote to pass the budget has too often led to more state spending. McClintock said, “What it does is bid up the cost of the budget with each additional vote.” In other words, a legislator may bargain his or her budget vote for a new program or park in the home district.
If the two-thirds vote doesn’t restrain spending, maybe using the old model to pass the budget will. If a majority vote were required to pass a budget increase of no more than 5%, that cap would serve as a spending limit. If the legislators want to go above 5% they can do so with a two-thirds vote.
California operates on a current services budget. If current services are continued in most cases the increase would come under the 5% cap and could be achieved by a majority vote. However, if a new spending commitment were made by the Legislature — and that increased spending exceeds the 5% limit, — then a two-thirds vote would be justified.
Setting up a two-tiered system would force legislators to think about new spending programs. And, the plan would act as a de facto spending limit. However, it would also allow for a majority vote to pass the budget if spending increases were reasonable. Could this model from the past lead to a new way of doing things in the future?