Joel Fox wrote here Monday that Prop 25 had failed to produce a better budget.
And he was dead right.
Passing a much-touted constitutional amendment that is supposed to guarantee an on-time, balanced budget does not in fact guarantee an on-time, balanced budget. Indeed, the only thing it guarantees that lawmakers will pass something that gets them paid – despite the fact that the initiative was supposed to prevent lawmakers from being paid if they didn’t pass a balanced budget on-time.
That’s the lesson of Prop 25, of most of the 100-year-old history of initiative-based constitutional reform. Putting in a rule doesn’t mean you’ll get what the rule says.
The question I have for Fox is: why doesn’t he apply this lesson to other reforms?
Specifically, Fox continues to be a backer of spending limits. Authors of these limits are convinced that they are game-changers, that they would finally force the state to rein in spending and balance budgets.
But why should Fox, or anyone else, think that a spending limit would be a limit on spending?
California, after all, has rainy day funds – even though there’s never any money in them for a rainy day. Heck, the state even has a spending limit – the Gann Spending Limit – which remains in place today. But state spending is so far under it that it has no real meaning.
I think this would be a moment for Fox, and others like him, to recognize reality and declare that there’s no point in pursuing spending limits. Or other guarantees that can’t be guaranteed.
It’s time to move away from these whips and chains – and embrace constitutional reform that gives more freedom to our elected officials to make decisions, and makes it easier for the public to pass judgment on those decisions, via referenda and candidate elections that actually matter.