Lawmakers Like Prop 25

SEPT. 27, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

Proposition 25 has many of the state’s legislators up in arms, but for very different reasons. Some fear losing the two-thirds vote threshold on budgets and taxes, while others fear the initiative process is intruding on what should be “legislative territory.”

Prop 25 would change the legislative vote requirement to pass the budget from two-thirds to a simple majority. On Sept. 23, it came up for discussion at a joint legislative committee hearing.

At first, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield, D-Van Nuys, said he did not want the hearing to turn into a platform for legislators’ views on the initiative. But then he began voicing his concerns, the biggest being that his committee would still have to conduct budget oversight, but would have no tools to do it.

“When the Legislature doesn’t get to craft a bill, this is what happens – using focus groups instead of policy experts,” said Senate Committee Chairwoman Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego.

Mac Taylor with the Legislative Analyst’s Office addressed the joint committee hearing and described the initiative as “relatively straightforward.” Taylor presented both sides of the initiative to lawmakers, explaining that Prop 25 wouldn’t save the state very much money if a budget is not passed on time.

Proponents on hand included representatives from the California Faculty Association, League of Women Voters and the law firm of Olson, Hagel and Fishburn. They told lawmakers that “Proposition 25 helps to fix California’s broken budget process” and “Prop 25 will help hold legislators accountable.”

Attorney Lance Olsen offered legal background on the lawsuit filed by opponents of the measure about the title and summary of the initiative, and said he was pleased with the court of appeals’ decision. Last month, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled that Prop 25 did not maintain the two-thirds requirement to raise taxes, but the California 3rd District Court of Appeals overturned that ruling a few days later, allowing the ballot language to remain intact.

When opponents of the measure, which included members of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, addressed the committee, debate of the initiative started.

“Strong opposition” to Prop 25 was how Greg Hines characterized the CMTA’s position. Hines expressed criticism of the legislature’s failure to pass a budget, saying that “We are staring down 85 days without a budget – Prop 25 does not solve that goal.”

Hines outlined what he described as myths to Prop 25, beginning with calling it “reform.”  “We don’t believe it has any real budget reform which would actually include, spending restraints, rainy day reserves and long term planning,” he said. “This is a misguided budget fix. It fixes nothing.”

David Wolfe of the HJTA called Prop 25 a “carve-out for taxing with a majority vote.” The organization has further said that it, “defines the term ‘bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill’ as being ‘bills identified as related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.’ Prop. 25 does not prohibit any such bill from including a tax increase, nor does any existing provision of the California constitution prohibit a bill from including both an item of appropriation and a tax increase in the same measure.”

The LAO’s report on Prop 25 is, at best, ambiguous on this point. “This measure amends the Constitution to lower the vote requirement necessary for each house of the Legislature to pass a budget bill and send it to the Governor,” the report states. “Specifically, the vote requirement would be lowered from two-thirds to a majority (50 percent plus one) of each house of the Legislature. The lower vote requirement also would apply to trailer bills that appropriate funds and are identified by the Legislature ‘as related to the budget in the budget bill.’”

Shortly after opposition testimony, legislators offered positions about the initiative, with most committee members favoring passage.

For instance, Blumenfield asked Hines, “You stated you don’t want to give power back to the people who created this mess – that was directed at whom?”

“It’s not directed at any one person, but at the legislative body as a whole,” Hines said.

Next, Blumenfield asked Taylor how California compared to other states.

“Six other states support a majority vote but with specific and certain circumstances,” Taylor said. “But a two-thirds vote for increasing taxes is more common.”

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Redding, came out against the measure. “I see a majority vote as inviting more spending,” he said. “What would invite less spending?”

Wolfe said Prop 25 makes it easier to pass tax increases, “like the $12 billion tax increase in the 2009 budget, which came out to an additional annual increase of $1,200 per family of four.” He added that the tax increase was demonstrative of why allowing a majority vote on budgets is a bad idea.

“It’s very difficult to listen to this debate,” said Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-City of Industry. “We are dealing with a gorilla in the room. If people want a budget on time, make this a majority vote state.”

Donors to the YES on Prop 25 campaign — largely labor unions — have contributed greatly. Ballotpedia includes a formidable list:

  • California Federation of Teachers: $1.25 million
  • AFL-CIO: $850,000
  • California School Employees Association $450,000
  • AFSCME: (Association of federal, state, county, municipal employees) $300,000
  • California Teachers Association: $250,000
  • California Nurses Association: $100,000
  • Stephen M. Silberstein: $100,000
  • California Faculty Association: $100,000
  • Los Angeles County Democratic Party: $50,000

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