More fun with Prop 25 loopholes

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Last week I recounted how legislators could still get paid
even if there is no budget in place by the beginning of the fiscal year in
July, in apparent contravention of the spirit of Proposition 25.

Today comes the story of how the Legislature has
passed with a majority vote and the Governor has signed substantive laws that
take effect immediately to implement the budget – but without a budget having
been presented to the Governor for his signature. This is probably legal, but
in this case again violates the spirit of Proposition 25.

All of this is permitted by a loophole in the "On-Time
Budget Act." The measure lowered the legislative vote requirement to pass a
budget from a two-thirds to simple majority. It also reduced the vote threshold
for "other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill."
These are commonly understood to mean substantive changes in the law necessary
to implement the state budget, but are not by its terms legally limited to
that. The only limitation in Prop 25 is that these bills must be "identified as
related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature."

So what does all this legalese mean?

It means that substantive changes to statutes meant
to implement the budget have taken effect now, even before the budget has been
delivered to the Governor for his consideration – if it ever is.

OK, so this may be offensive to procedural purists,
so what? The more insidious threat is to the ability of voters to reconsider
legislative measures using the power of referendum. During the Proposition 25
campaign I raised this issue, arguing that the practical
effect of Proposition 25 would be to abolish the referendum power altogether.

Just last month the Legislature passed by a majority
vote seven measures covering a wide variety of subjects. Each of them took
effect upon the Governor’s signature, which means that none of them could be
referred by the voters for consideration at a statewide election. While there
may not have been any seriously objectionable provisions in any of these
measures, it is inevitable that someday a controversial issue will find itself
jammed into a "budget-related bill" and approved by a bare legislative
majority, yet be immunized from voter referendum.

And they
could do it without even passing a budget.

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