Saturday, December 11, 2010

Complaints from California: Untangling the Ballot Measures

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

On November 2, 2010, California voters weighed in on nine ballot measures, all initiatives. Their votes sent one very important messages: We don't trust you legislators.

Lets take a closer look at a few of these measures.
The voters' decisions on the two redistricting measures are emblematic of their attitudes to their elected officials. After the last census, in 2001, when the legislators drew their own district lines, the overwhelmingly majority of legislators were able to draw safe districts for themselves. In November 2008, California voters passed Prop 11, a measure which creates a 14-member independent redistricting commission to draw district lines for the State Senate, State Assembly and Board of Equalization. That commission is now in the final stages of being formed.
Prop 27, the last of the nine ballot measures, would have eliminated the independent redistricting commission. The "yes" side contended that Californians could not only afford such a commission, but that voters should not allow unelected individuals to draw the state's lines. In an era of terrible budget deficits, voters said "no." Essentially, the voters would prefer that a group of 14 people they've likely never heard of draw district lines rather than a group they have heard a little something about, their elected officials.
The voters then went a step further and approved Prop 20, which asks the independent redistricting commission to not only draw the state district lines, but also the federal congressional lines. This could mean that some senior members of the California delegation could basically be districted out of office. To which voters seemed to respond, "good luck to you."
Californians also passed, by a two-to-one margin, Prop 23, which prohibits the state from borrowing certain local funds used for transportation and redevelopment. The voters essentially said to the state legislators, find a way to balance the state budget that does not include borrowing local funds. This is also an example of ballot box budgeting. The voters have gone to the ballot and sent a clear message to their elected officials, telling them what they can and cannot do when balancing the budget.
Speaking of the budget, the voters also passed Prop 25, which provides that only a simple majority of both legislative houses are needed to pass a budget. Before Prop 25, there was a supermajority requirement that two-thirds of both houses approve a budget. The November election came on the heels of the state's historic budget battle. Bloody budget negotiations dragged on for 100 days before the houses cobbled together a less than ideal agreement. The voters likely didn't want to see that happen again.
But while the voters give, they also take away. While finding that only a simple majority of both legislative houses in needed to pass a budget, the voters also opted to increase the requirement needed to increase certain state and local fees from a simple majority to a two-thirds vote. What message could the voters be sending? "Pass the budget, but don't increase my fees."
The legislators, who face approval ratings which would suggest that only immediate family members and staffers support their job performance, should take little solace in the voters' decisions on the November 2010 ballot.

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