As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Critical Mass On Budget Reform

The weekly Democratic radio address (which ought to be a YouTube address, come on guys) called for an end to the 2/3 requirement for budget and tax increases. This is the first time in my memory that so many lawmakers are openly talking about revising 2/3. It's not a new problem - 28 of the last 32 budgets have been late due to legislative squabbling, with the fights becoming more protracted than ever over the past decade. And every economic downturn, no matter how slight, sets off a crisis. Assemblyman John Perez made it clear:

The budget would not have taken so long and would have not included non-budget related issues like an open primary if California did not have the unusual requirement of a two thirds vote for budget approval.

Reforming this two-thirds requirement should be a priority for all Californians.

Perez did not reference whether the new requirement should be the arbitrary 55% number, which is what the current initiative being circulated states, or a simple democratic majority. We've learned where a number of Democrats stand this weekend:

• Darrell Steinberg decided not to mention 2/3 hardly at all in his op-ed in the Sacramento Bee. That's a lack of leadership. No elected official should be speaking in public and pass up the opportunity to advocate for majority vote. He instead opted for a Broderist call for working together and the awkward tag line "Smarter going forward."

In comments to David Greenwald, Steinberg did call for repeal, but failed to pick a side.

“The answer in my view is to take this two-thirds supermajority requirement. We are one of three states in the country that allows a small minority of members to hold up the progress.... It doesn't really work for California; it worked this time barely because of the magnitude of the crisis... We need to take the question this two-thirds supermajority to the ballot. I feel even stronger now than I did when I started on December 1.”

• Karen Bass is also talking about 2/3, but she is looking at the arbirtrary standard:

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has proposed one that would allow lawmakers to approve budgets with 55 percent majorities if they do it by June 15. After that, it would take two-thirds votes.

It's not necessarily that this kind of measure would definitely not pass because all the thrust of majority democratic rule is lost, but that's certainly a factor.

• In that same article, Loni Hancock calls for a simple majority:

Hancock has introduced a constitutional amendment that would require only simple majorities to approve budgets.

"California needs to have a normal democracy like every other state in the nation except Rhode Island and Arkansas," she said.

That's a talking point. 55% is mush.

The point is that we have the Democratic leadership finally talking about the main impediment to the perpetual budget crisis. Without two-thirds, you can fix a tax system that is too closely tied to boom-and-bust economic cycles. Without two-thirds, you can end the virtual bribery of Yacht Party and moderate lawmakers. Without two-thirds, you can end the Big Five process that facilitates official secrecy and backroom deals and use a deliberative process involving the committee structure and relying on the input of the entire caucus. And without 2/3, you won't have to hear from high Broderist windbags tinkering on the margins with proposals that make them feel good but will do absolutely nothing to solve the problem. It's kind of hilarious that the LAST proposal in George "Can't We All Get Along" Skelton's long list in today's column is this:

* A simple majority vote for budget passage; 55% at most. Scrap the two-thirds vote requirement.

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