Restoring balance and trust to the Golden State
October 30, 2010 by Elizabeth Sholes
No election is insignificant, but the specific measures on the California ballot this November bear heavily on our concerns for social justice. California Council of Churches IMPACT, sister organization to the CA Council of Churches, represents 1.5 million people within the mainstream, progressive Protestant communities of faith, helping promote good public policy. For our members, assuring that we have a government that works for all people is the foundation upon which all our own work can proceed.
Several of the ballot measures address more effective governance by returning sanity to our budget process with a majority vote; providing direct funding to support our natural resources; and reminding us that care for creation is a mandate that must be sustained by defeating the attack on clean energy. These, among other issues, compel us to vote in this election. There is a great deal at stake.
Many of us remember California’s “golden days” when our educational system was the best, well funded and workable; when we had a balance of public and private interests that worked for the good of all, and when we could have our voices heard locally as well as at the state level. We were more self-sufficient and capable of assuring the well being of all members of our society, not just because of a better national economy but because of a more rational, accessible form of government.
An unintended consequence of Proposition 13 was centralizing budget decision making in Sacramento. With less and less local authority over spending, we began to lose our most effective forms of democracy. For that reason, we now find ourselves voting to give up local funds so they may be pooled with state and federal dollars to protect programs counties desperately need to serve their populace. This saves essential safety net services but forces us to relinquish our democratic authority over what and how services will be deployed.
The more removed we are from decision-making and policy makers, the less trust we have in the outcomes. The more rules we impose on the Legislature, the less responsive they can be to us, since they have little or no discretion. Rather than increasing their capacity to hear us, forcing supermajority votes opens the budget process to deal-making to get the required two-thirds votes. These deals are illegal but have become an essential part of the process in which we give massive tax and regulatory breaks to favored special interests just to get budget votes. Budgets therefore are always late, and our schools and essential services close, are cut back, or withhold services until the money is once again released.
This annual “dance of death” over the budget creates even more mistrust and undermines public confidence so greatly that voter turnout decreases annually. That crisis of legitimacy is a grave threat to democracy.
We can restore sanity and thus livability and justice to this system. We can restore greatness to our state with rational rather than fearful voting. A first step is to remember that the functions of the branches of government must be allowed to operate, that legitimacy comes not from “shackles” but from successful policy implementation. We need to take off the legal limits that keep our legislators from hearing our will and allow them to be truly representative, not chained by rules of the past that no longer work. We need to pay for our demands with funding streams such as the VLF fee for parks, and not impose wants for which we do not provide funds. We need to live within our means and provide those means so that we can assure we once again are a livable state with resources and benefits for all of us. We did it before. We must do it again.
Elizabeth Sholes is Director of Public Policy for California Church IMPACT
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog by our guest elections columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of California Forward or our Leadership Council.