California’s budget process is broken. Democrats use their
majority to spend as much as they can. Republicans use their leverage under the
two-thirds requirement for budget and taxation to block the taxes needed to pay
for that spending. At budget times, this produces delay and last-minute
compromises that merely serve to push problems into the future.

is that the folks at California Forward (and an increasing number of good
government types) say they want to change this system – by eliminating the
two-thirds requirement for budgets (to a majority) while preserving the 2/3
requirement for taxes. Among the various explanations I’ve heard for this, the
one most oft-repeated is: budgets, which last only a year, should be easier to
pass, but tax increases are open-ended (except when they’re not, as in this
year’s temporary increases) and should be harder. There’s also a political
explanation. California Forward is trying to avoid opposition from Republicans.

problem? This half-measure doesn’t change the system. It preserves it. In fact,
changing the vote requirement for the budget and not taxes would embed the
current dysfunctional dynamic even deeper in our legislative politics.

a majority vote budget, it’d be even easier for the majority Democrats to enact
their spending priorities. And for minority Republicans, having lost their
leverage on the budget, they would hold on even tighter to their 2/3 leverage
on taxes and block the revenue increases needed to pay for Democratic spending
priorities and balance the state books. It seems reasonable to assume that
under California Forward’s system, the state’s persistent budget deficits would
grow in size.

other words, this system gives us the worst of both worlds – unchecked
Democratic spending and more Republican intransigence on taxes.

basic problem in our system is not delays. That’s a symptom of the real
problem, which is lack of accountability. The majority party doesn’t own the
budget – both parties are responsible, since it requires Republicans votes.
It’s a dodge to try to change the budget rules without the tax rules. Taxes are
part of the budget-the two issues are indivisible. To restore accountability to
budgeting, you have to give the legislative majority ownership of the budget
that includes ownership of taxation. Any problems – too high spending, too high
taxes – will be the fault of the party in power. And then voters can punish

half-measure (changing the vote on budget not taxes), by preserving the current
dynamic, would be worse than no change at all.

if the folks at California Forward are committed to half-measures, they should
do the exact opposite of what they now propose. Switch to a majority vote for
taxes, but keep the two-thirds vote for spending. This might produce a deficit
hawk’s paradise. The Republicans would have the two-thirds leverage to block
spending (good for the health of the budget) while Democrats would find it
easier to raise taxes (also good for the health of the budget).