We are the problem

Voters’ ‘reforms’ have made a solid state budget nearly impossible

Now that California finally has a budget, albeit once again a gimmicky contraption that does nothing to eliminate the state’s structural deficit, it’s worth asking: Who’s to blame for this chronic inability to chart a sound fiscal path? Lawmakers? The governor?

Not really, though they haven’t always acted commendably and deserve a share of the blame. But the primary cause of the problem is, well, we the people.

To put it bluntly, we’ve made a mess of the process. Distrustful of government, we’ve approved a series of “reforms” over the years that make passing a budget increasingly difficult.

Long ago we required a two-thirds vote on the budget, giving a minority the power to kill it, making California one of only three states where that is possible. Then we added term limits, which made sure lawmakers lacked the experience to work the system effectively. Then we passed all kinds of autopilot spending formulas that limit budgetary flexibility. And we allowed lawmakers to draw their own districts—that is, to choose their voters—assuring safe seats that will be occupied by either ultra-liberals or ultra-conservatives who are unwilling to compromise.

No wonder it’s hard to pass a budget.

Adding insult to injury, voters have upheld all these obstacles in recent years, refusing to reform term limits, redistricting and the supermajority vote on the budget when given the opportunity. If anyone wanted more gridlock, that was the way to get it.

The situation is so bad, and the possibility of incremental reform so slight, that some people are calling for a constitutional convention to fix things once and for all. Others say a better approach would be a citizens assembly, a body of randomly selected average citizens empowered to propose electoral reforms via a statewide referendum.

Both paths are worth exploring. Nothing about the current situation suggests that Sacramento is capable of solving the problems on its own. We the people have made sure of that.