The second Republican gubernatorial debate in San Jose yesterday featured relentless attacks from Steve Poizner, with Meg Whitman sticking to the script that has served her well so far. Whitman counterattacked, but Poizner had the sharper elbows.
Three times Poizner said the election was about character and asked Whitman, "Who are you, really?" in identifying Whitman as a supporter of Barbara Boxer and Van Jones. Whitman called Poizner a true engineer, as in engineering a new position for every office he runs for. Meanwhile, solutions to California’s many problems were few and far between.
While the candidates had answers for most of the questions addressed to them by a panel of journalist, there was one question that stumped both candidates: Which initiative that contributes to California’s fiscal mess should be reconsidered?
Now, admittedly, I’m not on the spot, required to answer the question in 30 seconds, as debate moderator, KQED reporter John Myers, requested. But there are plenty of measures that I think could be repealed.
The big one is one of the most sacrosanct: Proposition 98, which guarantees that 40-percent of the state budget be dedicated to the schools. Proposition 98 has done more to tie the state budget into knots than any other measure. It has turned running the schools over to the state legislature-not a good policy considering the record of education since Prop 98 has been in place.
There are a whole bunch of tax measures I did not vote for that I would take away. Proposition 63, the income tax dedicated to mental health that has built a reserve while the state budget goes wanting is one that was mentioned by Poizner later in the debate.
Whitman probably could have specified repealing the high-speed rail bond that was criticized in audits last week. She actually mentioned that bond in her answer before eventually passing on the question. Poizner had an opportunity to say he would undo Proposition 39, the measure he gave $200,000 to help succeed at the ballot box making it easier to pass school bonds, something he says he now regrets. He could have scored a point with that answer.
But, here’s the truth about these initiatives mentioned above as well as most initiatives passed over the past few decades. While a politician can say that he or she would do away with an initiative that makes budgeting difficult, the voters would probably not agree.
Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, who has spent years studying initiatives and offering reforms to the process, argues that there are hardly any initiatives the voters would repeal if given the chance. He’s probably right.
So the answer to the initiative question is: You may want to repeal many initiatives but the voters will not go along.