There has been a lot of discussion about Proposition 1A within Republican circles over the past couple of weeks. But in my view this debate has centered on the wrong issue: anger over tax increases. Proposition 1A isn’t about that.
This measure is about putting real handcuffs on the ability of the Legislature to lock our taxpayer dollars into way too much spending in the good years only to have to turn around and make major cuts or increase taxes in the tough times.
Rather than getting sucked into an emotional argument about taxes, as thoughtful people who share a common world view, Republicans should hold ourselves to a higher standard and have a substantive discussion of the merits of Proposition 1A.
I want to be clear up front: I am a fiscal conservative. I came into California politics with Prop 13 and served 8 years as a member of the Legislature, including three as Assembly Republican Leader, fighting tax increases. I abhor taxes. And despite that, I am supporting Proposition 1A because I believe that the trade off we are getting for real spending reform in exchange for two additional years of temporary tax increases is well worth it.
Without voter imposed spending limits Sacramento will never change its ways. As everyone reading this knows California faces an intractable financial mess. This mess is the result of multiple factors, the biggest of which is the uncontrolled spending spree that goes on every time there is a surge in revenue.
For example, during Gray Davis’ first two years in office the state took in 30 percent more in revenue and promptly committed the vast majority of it to ongoing programs. In the wake of the dot com crash in 2000 revenues dropped off by 14 percent in one year. But the state was already obligated to all that spending it committed to in the early Davis years.
If Proposition 1A had been in place 10 years ago when the 1998-99 budget was drafted the situation would have been dramatically different. In fact the gap the Legislature and the Governor would have had to fill this year would have been $5.4 billion instead of $32 billion. I guarantee you we would not have had a tax increase if Proposition 1A had been in place.
I am convinced after a thorough review of the measure that Prop 1A, which is a constitutional amendment, is decidedly different from past attempts at a spending limit. The budget reform contained in Proposition 1A will clamp down. It will slow spending growth. It is the only hope we have to move California toward a stable financial situation.
There are some making the argument that Prop 1A isn’t really spending reform because should the Legislature decide down the line to put into place a permanent tax increase the spending cap under Prop 1A will also increase. But we must remember that a tax increase can only be enacted by a 2/3 vote of the legislature, something that history shows is actually a rarity that tends to occur only during a crisis.
Should Proposition 1A be defeated, the pressure to increase taxes will be significantly increased. In addition, the pressure to do away with the 2/3 vote necessary to raise taxes will be even higher than it is now. Conversely, passing Proposition 1A means stability and responsible planning for the inevitable economic downturns we will face, and that will significantly reduce the pressure for tax increases, and possibly create an environment where tax cuts become politically plausible.
The bottom line here is that we will not have another opportunity to put into place real spending reform for at least a decade, maybe more, if Proposition 1A does not pass. We have been fighting for this kind of reform since Ronald Reagan was the Governor of this state and we simply cannot let this opportunity pass us by.