A package of reforms

Proposition 31 is huge and complex but worth passing

Proposition 31 on the November ballot, the “Government Performance and Accountability Act,” might also be called “the Moby-Dick of initiatives.” At 8,000 words, it’s one of the longest and most complex measures ever put forward.

Asking voters to decide on such a behemoth is asking a lot, no matter how good the initiative may be. Nevertheless, we think it should pass.

Written by such good-government groups as California Forward and the Think Long Committee, the measure would amend the state constitution to reform the budget process in several ways. It would shift the state to a two-year budget cycle, for example. It would also require performance reviews of all state programs and that bills be in print and available to the public at least three days before a vote.

And it would institute a “pay-as-you-go” requirement that legislators identify a source of funding—either new taxes or spending cuts—for any new programs costing $25 million or more. It also would give the governor the authority to make budget cuts if he or she declares a fiscal emergency and the Legislature fails to act.

Finally, it would allow local governments—a county and its cities, say—greater flexibility and additional funding to design local approaches to state-mandated services by forming a Community Strategic Action Plan.

There are weaknesses in the initiative. For example, it doesn’t require funding sources to be denoted for statewide initiatives, which often come with significant costs. And by enshrining “pay-as-you-go” in the constitution, it could decrease budgeting flexibility down the road.

On balance, though, it’s a step—or a series of steps—forward. Take our word for it.