The Easy Fix for Prop 39

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Let’s chill out at Prop 39. It’s easy to fix.

Yes, the AP and other media have reported on how little of the money collected in corporate taxation for green-energy investments has been spent, and how there is little accountability for what has been spent.

That’s good to know. But it shouldn’t occasion much outrage, or much concern. The fix is within the measure itself.

Prop 39 married a sensible change in corporate taxation (changing the formula to punish out-of-state corporations) to a questionable bit of ballot-box budgeting. That questionable bit involved carving half of the money out of the general fund for investments in projects in schools and other buildings to make them more energy efficient.

But the proposition only claimed this money for five years. Then the money was supposed to go back to the general fund.

So why not just do that?

The green spending was premised on all kinds of commission work and review that mostly hasn’t been done. Yes, it’s next to impossible to amend initiatives. But here the text of the initiative, by my reading at least, requires all the review to trigger the spending. Since there’s no legal predicate for spending the money without review, why why not simply cut off the money, and dump it all back into the general fund?

The legislature should be able to do it. The general fund was the intended target of any money that wasn’t used, and of all the money after a period of years.

That outcome would be an improvement on Prop 39 itself – keep the corporate tax change, and get rid of the ballot box budgeting. Sounds like a green and efficient solution to me.

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