With the state budget now more than 50 days late, the usual suspects have again lined up to decry the two-thirds vote requirement to pass the state budget. But the problem isn’t a late budget – it’s an unbalanced, undisciplined budget.
The typical defense of the supermajority vote is that it promotes consensus and restrains overspending or tax increases. But in practice it has done neither: taxes are already checked by a two-thirds vote, and spending has obviously not been constrained by the budget vote hurdle.
So maybe the time has come to jettison the two-thirds budget vote, and replace it with some legitimate budget reforms that would actually control spending. After all, the fundamental cause of the budget debacle has been persistent bankrolling of workload budgets that have exceeded even extravagant revenue increases: to illustrate, a 44% increase in General Fund tax revenues between 2003 and 2007 was not enough to cover all the spending demands.
Let the voters decide whether to repeal the two-thirds budget vote requirement, but at the same time the Legislature should place on the ballot constitutional amendments to:
- Enact a mandatory budget reserve that can only be used when revenues collapse.
- Repeal or suspend all automatic program inflation adjustments and rate increases that are not currently in the Constitution.
- Create a mandatory retirement program for new state employees that provides sufficient pensions at lower costs to both employees and taxpayers.
- Rationalize the state’s obligation for retiree health and dental benefits to stem the enormous future costs of these benefits.
Removing these spending drivers and cushioning revenue shortfalls will enable legislators of both parties in both houses to debate budget goals with fewer preconditions. The absence of a two-thirds vote might even result in cross-party coalitions to support priorities for, say, higher education or public works, rather than seeing those items fall to the bottom of the list while financing for other programs or functions automatically escalate.