California Forward is dedicated to offering nonpartisan, informative, straightforward information about the propositions that will appear on the November 2 ballot. We will post informational articles on each ballot measure, to help you as you make your voting decisions.
In addition to reading and interacting with our blog, we want you to share your ideas on how to fix California. Please go to our Dear Gov site to contribute your solutions to the conversation.
NOTE: California Forward’s work on governance reform may be affected by several of these measures, although we have not taken a position on them – with one exception. CA Fwd opposes Prop 27. Prop 27 would reverse the landmark redistricting reform plan that was enacted by voters in 2008 as Prop 11. California Forward endorsed Prop 11 and has been deeply involved — with many other groups — in supporting successful implementation of the reform since enactment. The opportunity to serve California through the new redistricting commission inspired tens of thousands of highly qualified Californians to apply for the job, which we applaud. We look forward to the new, independent commission taking control of state redistricting in 2011.
The California State Constitution requires that the Legislature approve a budget by June 15 of each year, 15 days before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. But over time, the budget has increasingly been enacted past this date. The issue reached new heights in 2010, when lawmakers set the dubious record of passing a budget 100 days late.
Close observers of budget politics agree that ideological divisions between the two major parties contribute to this gridlock. Our current Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the members in each house of the Legislature to approve a budget and send it to the governor’s desk. Because no single party comprises a 67 percent share of either house, the budget must receive votes from members of both parties.
Proposition 25 would change the vote threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority of 50 percent plus one. Another provision of Prop 25 prevents legislators from being paid each day past June 15 in which it has not approved a budget.
Proponents of Prop 25 argue that it will reduce budget gridlock by allowing a simple majority vote to pass a budget. This threshold is more easily reached by the majority party than a 2/3 threshold.
But there has been nothing simple about this measure’s interpretation.
On July 8 of this year, opponents launched a campaign claiming that Prop 25 would effectively authorize tax increases, because it allows tax increases passed as part of a budget to get through on a simple majority vote. Tax increases normally require a two-thirds vote for passage. On the other hand, the language of the proposition explicitly states that it “will not change the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.”
On Aug. 5, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette ruled in favor of Prop 25 opponents and ordered that the following sentence in the ballot label be removed:
“RETAINS TWO-THIRDS VOTE REQUIREMENT FOR TAXES.”
However, Judge Marlette side-stepped the issue of whether or not the measure would, in fact, permit tax increases with a majority vote. Instead, he ruled on the grounds that the language could mislead voters into thinking that they must support the initiative simply to keep the two-thirds vote requirement for taxes.
Then, on Aug. 9, the Third District Court of Appeals rejected Judge Marlette’s ruling, stating that:
“We find nothing in the substantive provisions that would allow the Legislature to circumvent the existing constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote to raise taxes.”
If Prop 25 were enacted and a future Legislature attempted to increase taxes in the budget with a simple majority vote, it is not clear at this point what the outcome of a legal challenge to that action would be.
When California Forward proposed its 2010 Reform Principles, one element of this plan allowed the budget to be passed with a simple majority vote. However, California Forward believes changing the two-thirds vote requirement only makes sense if it is included as part of a comprehensive approach to overhaul the state’s fiscal system. Consequently, California Forward does not take a position on Prop 25.