Prop. 25 Sparks Debate Over Tax Hikes

SEPT. 14, 2010


A ballot initiative designed to make it easier for the Legislature to pass the annual budget has supporters and opponents up debating the actual intent of the initiative, as well as the ballot measure language.

What both sides can agree upon is that Proposition 25 would lower the legislative vote threshold to a majority vote from two-thirds, so that lawmakers could pass state budgets.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis and summary for a Yes/No vote reads:

  • A YES vote on this measure means that the Legislature’s vote requirement to send the annual budget bill to the Governor would be lowered from two-thirds to a majority of each house of the Legislature.
  • A NO vote on this measure means: The Legislature’s vote requirement to send an annual budget bill to the Governor would remain unchanged at two-thirds of each house of the Legislature.

An popular provision in the proposition would prevent legislators from being paid if they fail to deliver a budget to the governor later than June 15. But according to Beth Miller, the NO on Prop 25 spokeswoman, the pay forfeiture issue within the initiative is designed to trick voters into passing the proposition, based on emotional issues. “Voters are very angry with legislators, and would like to see legislators pay for late budgets with their salaries,” said Miller.

“Proposition 25 was brought to us by the same politicians who created this budget mess in Sacramento,” said Miller. “They want to lure voters into the measure, that in no way guarantees that lawmakers would not receive their pay and perks.”

“With a simple majority vote, it should come as no surprise that this measure makes it easier for the state Legislature to raise taxes on Californians,” said Miller.

“However, a more disturbing element of the initiative would prevent voters from initiating future budget and spending ballot referendums, defying Article II of the constitution,” said Miller. (Article II of the California Constitution reads, “All political power is inherent in the people…” and “…the people reserve to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum.”)

“The Legislature does not have to pass a legitimate budget, just that they get a budget – even a budget full of garbage — to the governor by June 15 every year,” said Miller.

Supporters of the proposition say that the change would more quickly facilitate the California budget process, and could prevent state workers and vendors from being furloughed or forced to go unpaid.

The League of Women Voters supports the measure and lists on the League Web site that the reason to support the measure is the habitually late budgets.

The league did not return phone calls by press time, but according to the League Web site, “One of the consequences of the two-thirds vote requirement can be seen in our state’s budget history. Over the past 30 years, the Legislature has passed a budget bill by the June 15th deadline only five times.”

The league listed a few of the most egregiously late budgets on the Web site including, the 2008-2009 budget not signed until Sept. 23, 2008, the second latest budget was 2002-2003, and was not signed until Sept. 5, 2002, and the third latest budget was in 1992-1993, was not signed until Sept. 2, 1992.

A coalition of taxpayers and employers called Stop Hidden Taxes is opposing Prop. 25. It is sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce and California Taxpayers’ Association.

“Other states have passed budgets within the time frame allotted,” David Kline, communications director for the NO on Proposition 25 campaign, and vice president of communications at the California Taxpayer’s Association. Kline said that California used to impose a two-thirds vote only if there was a 5 percent tax increase proposed within a budget, and a simple majority vote if less than a 5 percent tax increase was proposed in the budget.

“Until recently, the California Legislature and governor passed the budget – for many years,” said Kline.

Both Miller and Kline said that in 2009, the Legislature passed a majority vote budget anyway, and sent it to the governor, even though it was not legal. “They constantly see just how far they can push the current rules,” said Kline, “and have a tendency to push everything.”

“Both the supporters and contributors of Prop 25 seem to want a majority vote on tax increases,” added Kline.

It is not completely clear whether the initiative would allow the Legislature to increase taxes with a simple majority vote.

Kline addressed the ballot language lawsuit and said that the Proposition 25 language is a challenge to understand. “Yet, the ballot initiative would amend the California Constitution. Voters should never doubt what they are about to vote on – language should speak for itself, but does not,” said Kline. “Ballot language has become so difficult to understand.”

The title and summary of Proposition 25, prepared by Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office, was challenged in court by opponents to remove a “misleading” sentence from the title, because it said that it would not affect the supermajority vote for a tax hike. A Sacramento Superior Court judge had ruled that the attorney general’s title and summary and ballot label for Prop. 25 was “false and misleading” and ordered it to be removed. But an appeals court recently overturned the Superior Court ruling allowing the ballot language to remain.

The analysis by the LAO does not appear to clear up the language confusion. The LAO states, “Proposition 25’s provisions do not specifically address the legislative vote requirement for increasing state tax revenues, but the measure states that its intent is not to change the existing two-thirds vote requirement regarding state taxes.”

The LAO explained in the analysis “Since 1980, the Legislature has met its June 15 constitutional deadline for sending a budget to the governor five times. During that same period, a final budget — passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor — was in place prior to the July 1 start of the fiscal year on 10 occasions, including three times since 2000.”

Other Prop. 25 supporters include: the California Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, the California School Employees Association, the California Teachers Association, the California Faculty Association, the California Nurses Association and the California Professional Firefighters.

The YES on Proposition 25 campaign spokesman did not return calls by press time. CalWatchdog will continue with updates on this proposition.

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