A hefty chunk, perhaps the majority, of media coverage of California governance in recent years has been about the budget. So why isn’t the media applying even the most basic scrutiny to Prop 2, the so-called “rainy day fund” measure that is on the ballot?
People are already beginning to cast votes, but the California media has given a one-sided accounting of Prop 2, portraying it as a common-sense, how-could-anyone-oppose-this measure. I have looked for critical analysis of the measure and how it might work in the popular press and radio. Instead, the propaganda of its backers has been repeated.
I realize that the subject is complicated – in fact, the complexity is probably the biggest problem with the measure – but that shouldn’t be any excuse. For a breakdown of what the measure might mean – nobody knows for sure – you can’t do better than the California Budget Project’s analysis. If you’re a reporter who has written about Prop 2 and hasn’t read that analysis, shame on you. And here’s the link.
Here’s how I would attempt to summarize Prop 2. The measure puts a 15-year lock on the state budget; or in other words, it essentially tries to establish new formulas to lock in place the budget management for the next 15 years – until 2030. That’s a generation of budget decisionmaking, decided at one election. Doesn’t that sound like kind of a big deal, my fellow reporters and editors?
If you need a harder political angle, then think of it this way. Governor Brown is trying to extend his governorship, now expected to conclude in 2018, by another 12 years. Isn’t that a power grab? Why not use this opportunity to press possible successors – Newsom, Harris, Villaraigosa, Steyer – on what they make of Prop 2?
Also, since it’s a constitutional amendment, it could only be changed by a vote of the people. So you’re obligating and limiting the choices of future elected officials and voters.
How this would work is unclear. There are a host of provisions – and more than one reserve fund in the measure (it could be called rainy day funds measure, since there’s a new budget reserve for schools, though it’s unclear to me whether it would ever have any money in it). It also has new rules on debt repayment and pensions – yes, this is a pension measure, too.
And it’s problematic for schools. These reserve funds, debt payments and pensions would seem to have more protection than school funds in bad budget years.
My own question: why build a host of new budget restrictions on today’s diminished budget, which is still near austerity levels on the most important programs? I fear that, by locking us into new rules, we are institutionalizing todays low levels of investment for 15 years. That fear is personal – that time period basically covers the childhoods of my three small children.
Now is the time to try to figure this out. I hear a lot of my journalistic colleagues complain that the public doesn’t appreciate how important they are. Well, Prop 2 provides a moment to demonstrate our relevance.