Reading Mayor Riordan’s piece denouncing Gov. Schwarzenegger and the special election ballot measures, my first thought was: they need to decaffeinate the coffee at the Original Pantry in downtown LA (For you NorCal types, that’s the mayor’s greasy spoon on Fig). It’s hard not to think that some of this is personal. Riordan, after all, was gearing up to run for governor in 2003 when Schwarzenegger, without telling the mayor, threw his hat in the ring, and Riordan’s stint as Schwarzenegger’s education secretary didn’t end well.
My second thought was: It’s time for Californians to swallow hard and realize that they deserve these six measures.
Yes, as Riordan points out, the measures shouldn’t please liberals or conservatives or moderates or Greens or Hamas, for that matter. Chief among their flaws is one that Riordan hints at: the new spending in these measures — particularly the educating funding in Prop 1B — won’t kick in until after Schwarzenegger leaves office at the end of 2010. But the budget benefits — givebacks from health programs, new money from lottery securitization — would help him with the budget right way.
That’s all true, as are concerns about tax increases during a recession, budget cuts to important programs, the precedents set by asking voters to raid funds approved by initiatives, and about the complexity of 1A.
But the best, most honest argument to Californians who raise these objections is: Swallow hard–this is your own damn fault. You want to blame the governor and legislators? Fine. But California voters had the power to prevent this. We could have backed politicians who responsibly argued for tax increases. We could have tried to–by ballot initiative — changes in the 2/3 rule that made these six measures the best possible deal that could be produced by our legislature. We could have voted down any number of initiatives that created new programs or required new spending without identifying new revenue streams to fund them.
But Californians have failed to govern themselves. Now the state is in a deep budget crisis during a global recession. And yes, it’d be a great idea to make these major reforms that we’ve failed to make in the past. But reforms take too long, and the current crisis won’t wait. These measures aren’t anyone’s idea of a good thing. There will still be a budget deficit even if they pass. But the bottom line is: the state will be in a better position if they pass than if they don’t. And there’s nothing the legislature will be able to do in a 2/3 system that’s any better.
In fact, these measures–and the need to pass them, despite all their problems — represent a strong argument for broad reform in California.