01/26/2015 by Lenny Mendonca

CA Fwd co-chair Lenny Mendonca responds to criticism of BITA

This was originally published on the San Mateo Daily Journal's website

When I read Henry Lawrence’s guest perspective on the passage and effect of the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act, or BITA, I was inspired to react.

Not only because in many instances I believe he is mistaken, but also because the progress that the state has made in reforming itself is such a great and positive story that too many people don’t yet understand.

Let’s start with BITA.

The Ballot Initiative Transparency Act is a culmination of the work of representatives from 60 different organizations — some on the political left, some on the political right — all concerned about what we should do to protect and improve California’s century old direct democracy tool that lets Californians weigh in on specific and important issues.

Californians like the ballot initiative — but they have become concerned that it’s too complicated and confusing and too often lacks the public disclosure about funding sources for signature gathering and initiative campaigns.

BITA is just a step to bringing great simplicity, transparency and accountability to the initiative process.

It is just the latest in a series of reforms supported by California Forward — an independent bipartisan nonprofit also known as CA Fwd that formed eight years ago.

To call us a progressive organization is as wrong as calling us a conservative one. We are part of the radical middle of California politics that believes government can be more efficient and more accountable. The people seem to agree.

We often find ourselves suggesting and promoting reforms that both parties oppose — like California Citizens Redistricting, which took the power of carving up legislative and congressional districts out of the politicians’ hands and gave it to the people. The political parties many not have liked the idea but the people approved it.

You might ask the Democrats and Republicans how much they like the top two primary, which says that the top two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the November runoff. The political parties hate it. The people liked it, approved it largely because they saw what hyper-partisanship was doing to this state.

Even Proposition 25, which Mr. Lawrence gives us undue credit for getting passed, came out of something that CA Fwd was promoting in its budget principles, which is a simple majority passage of the state budget. He’s right — the Democrats wanted that. Of course, what he forgot to mention, was that Proposition 26 — which requires a two-thirds super majority to pass fees — also passed. The Republicans really wanted that.

Both ideas came out of the budget principles that CA Fwd developed and promoted around the state.

So did the ideas of performance based budgeting, multi-year budgets and more transparency in the budget process. We’re still working on building awareness and support of those ideas.

One more thing: as part of our budget principles, CA Fwd has long promoted the idea of a rainy day fund of saving money during good times to prepare for the inevitable recessions that occur in California.

And again Californians said, “good idea,” and overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2 last November, which imposes fiscal discipline on the Legislature. It mandates saving money and paying down debt to keep them from overspending when times are good as they are today while ignoring the debts and long-term obligations.

Californians want their state to work better.

Our job at CA Fwd is to advance the progress California is undeniably making and to secure the reforms the people want. The task of growing middle class jobs, promoting cost effective public services and creating accountability for results are not liberal ideas nor conservative ideas.

They are good ideas for California, and they will continue to inform our work in the months and years to come.

Lenny Mendonca serves as co-chair of California Forward’s Leadership Council and is the former director of the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Company.

Categories: Democracy, Initiative Reform

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