Paul Jacob

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that “Propositions 1D and 1E represent ballot-box budgeting coming back to haunt the California electorate.”

Judging from the polls, voters don’t seem “haunted” at all. They’re set to defeat both D and E, ratifying their original vote to direct certain funding.

Both 1D and 1E are on the ballot because, by law, any initiative statute passed by California voters cannot be repealed by legislators. Instead, legislators must put an amendment to or a repeal of the initiative law on the ballot for voters to decide. In this case, legislators are seeking to divert some funding from mental health and childhood development programs passed through initiatives.

Kent Drum’s blog post on Mother Jones entitled, “The Scourge of the Ballot Initiative” notes that one measure concerns just $200 million dollars. Drum argues, “I’m not about to spend hours pouring over ballot arguments.”

He adds, “This is why we elect a legislature.”

Call me crazy, but I find it sorta nice to be asked, first, before officials overturn my vote.

Mr. Drum says the special election propositions are “one of the reasons I loathe the initiative process these days.”

For the record, none of these six measures are “initiatives” — that is, initiated by the people and petitioned onto the ballot. These six propositions are legislative referrals, placed on the ballot by a vote of the state legislature.

While some voter initiatives have mandated spending or otherwise affected the California budget, the actual impact is nothing like the hype, according to University of Southern California Professor John G. Matsusaka. His paper, “Have Voter Initiatives Paralyzed the California Budget?” concludes:

Virtually all of the earmarked spending was for education, and would have been appropriated by the legislature even without an initiative mandate. Initiatives placed only minimal constraints on the legislature’s ability to raise revenue. The facts suggest that voter initiatives are not a significant obstacle to balancing the budget in California.

The problem in California is the concentration of power in the legislature, resulting in misrepresentation and low public approval ratings.

The best solution? Much smaller districts where shoe leather can compete with money and connections. This means more state assemblymen and senators.

But like most important reforms, it will need to come through the voter initiative process. Legislators won’t want to reduce their personal slice of power.

Sure, bad policy decisions have been and can be made by voters as well as by politicians. Still, politicians retain their gigantic market share — and continually press their overwhelming advantage — in enacting disasters.

California is in trouble, no doubt about it. But the problem isn’t the voters. They’re the solution. 

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.