The Special Election on May 19 is about more than just filling financial gaps to get us through the tough times and on the road to recovery. What the election is really about is faith. Do voters believe that elected officials in Sacramento will be able to put aside partisan politics and seriously engage in real budget reform, or will business as usual rule once again, leaving voters with nothing to show for their support aside from higher taxes and deeper debt?
The central question seems to be, do voters trust the Legislature and the governor to do the right thing?
If the answer is yes (and surveys show that isn’t the case), then voting in favor of the package of propositions will come easy to most voters. If the answer is no, then the decision becomes even more difficult as voters struggle with the possibility that their lack of support will mean cuts to education and services for those who are struggling. Those who believe in tough love and have plenty of cash on hand will probably sleep easy.
While the Daily Press is leery of governing by proposition (isn’t that why we elect representatives in the first place, to govern), which is partly to blame for the fiscal mess in Sacramento, we feel that without some of the ballot measures (even though they were hammered out behind closed doors and in haste), the state’s most vulnerable could be even more deeply impacted as lawmakers make Draconian cuts, hence our support for Propositions 1A and 1C.
These are by no means solutions, but they keep the state afloat long enough for a bi-partisan committee to make recommendations for budget reform. If nothing is done, we say throw all the bums out of the capital and start fresh.
Prop.1A: (YES) This measure would do three things: It would increase the size of the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” from 5 to 12.5 percent of the General Fund, helping the state recover in times of economic decline, such as now. It would also extend tax increases for one or two additional years, including the vehicle license fee and personal income tax. The measure would also expand the governor’s authority to reduce some spending without approval from the Legislature, mainly capital outlay or operations expenditures and cost of living adjustments for programs. The Daily Press supports this measure because it offers some budget reform by forcing lawmakers to save, creating a more stable budget process. Putting more in the bank is worth the extra two years of tax increases. Giving more power to the governor seems a little risky, but it’s worth the trade off.
Prop.1B: (NO) This measure would pay back $9.3 billion in cuts to education. While that may seem great on the surface (and who wants to be seen as being anti-education), the measure lacks clarity in how it will affect future spending under Proposition 98, which essentially commits 40 percent of the state budget to K-12 and community colleges. If approved, the measure could force lawmakers to spend even more money, which they don’t have. This measure does nothing to reform the budget process or fill financial gaps and seems to be a gift to the powerful teachers’ unions in exchange for their support of the proposition package.
Prop. 1C: (YES) This measure would allow lawmakers to borrow $5 billion from future lottery profits to help balance the current budget. The lottery would be modernized with increased payouts, new games and improved marketing in hopes of drawing more interest. Lottery money that would go to schools would be redirected. In exchange, more money from the General Fund would be funneled into education, making up the difference. We support this measure because it allows the state to borrow funds and pay them back over time with future lottery profits and not from the General Fund. We’re talking $5 billion, which is critical at this time. It’s a gamble (payment is based on future lottery profits, the amount of which is unknown) but it’s worth the risk. This measure will fundamentally change the intent of the lottery as it was created, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Prop.1D and 1E: (YES) These measures would take money away from two of the most vulnerable groups in California — low income children and the mentally ill — by redirecting the tobacco tax and a tax on millionaires, both of which were approved by voters. Those taxes fund early childhood programs and programs for the mentally ill. Billions of dollars from both measures have not yet been spent, which will help soften the blow. The redirect of future monies is temporary and while difficult to stomach, given the most needy will be hurt, it is a better option than cutting millions from schools, Medi-Cal, foster care or other vital programs. Once again, tough times call for tough decisions and this is one of them.
Prop 1F: (YES) This is an easy one, and probably the only measure of the bunch that will pass. It’s all about pleasing the voters, who are pretty fed up with lawmakers. If approved, it would prevent lawmakers from receiving raises during times of fiscal crisis. It’s a no-brainer. Those who created the budget mess shouldn’t get a raise or bonus. This isn’t AIG. While the measure won’t bring much savings, it’s a symbolic gesture to let elected officials know voters are fed up with the status quo. We only wish it went further, docking lawmakers’ pay for every day a budget is not passed. Now that would get their butts in gear.