Vote ‘yes’ on all but one

Voters should support Props 1A, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F—but not 1B

The most important thing to understand about the six measures on the May 19 special-election ballot is that they’re the product of a compromise. After months of fruitless bargaining, lawmakers finally agreed, in February, on a way to solve California’s massive budget shortfall, then estimated at $42 billion through fiscal year 2009-10.

That’s important. For months, Californians had been telling their legislators to stop acting like petulant children and work out a budget deal. Now that they’ve done so, however, polls indicate that the voters are angry at the lawmakers and therefore likely to vote against most of the measures.

That would be a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The people who will be hurt if these measures fail are the citizens of California, not the legislators.

Remember, lawmakers have already made $15 billion in spending cuts. That’s part of the reason why Butte County is laying off employees, cutting library hours to almost zero, and reducing fire protection. It’s also why local schools are laying off teachers and looking at increased class sizes.

Granted, like most compromises, this one is messy. It “has something for everyone to hate,” as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass put it. That’s especially true of Proposition 1A. This is a complicated measure that, among other things, would extend recent temporary tax hikes for up to two years in return for placing a mild cap on state spending and setting aside tax windfalls in good years to be used in lean years.

It’s no panacea. Even if it passes, the state will face an estimated $8 billion deficit next year. And, as opponents warn, some unintended and unwanted consequences may result from all the fine print it contains. And, those who complain that it was devised behind closed doors, without public participation, have a good point.

Nevertheless, we urge voters to approve it. In the short term, it will generate sufficient revenues to avoid additional deep spending cuts. In the long term, 1A will help stabilize the budgeting process and force the state to create a valuable “rainy day” fund.

We also support the companion budget measures Propositions 1C, 1D and 1E, despite their shortcomings.

Proposition 1C would attempt to update the state lottery by authorizing new games and larger prizes, while allowing the state to borrow $5 billion against future lottery profits to apply to the 2009-10 budget. If this measure doesn’t pass, the deficit will balloon to $13 billion in 2009-10.

Propositions 1D and 1E are both unpleasant but necessary measures. The former would amend Proposition 10, a tax on cigarettes passed by voters in 1998 to fund First 5 children’s programs, and temporarily shift money from its reserve into the general fund. The latter would do the same with Proposition 63, the so-called “millionaires’ tax” passed in 2004 to fund mental-health programs. In both cases, existing programs for children and the mentally ill would be maintained. Proposition 1E happens to have the support of Senate Pro-tem Darrell Steinberg, who as an assemblyman co-authored the initiative.

And, finally, we also support Proposition 1F, though we believe it is a trivial exercise in venting. It would penalize lawmakers and other state elected officials whenever the budget had a deficit by denying them pay raises. Some officials, like the secretary of state, have nothing to do with budgeting, but oh well …

Polls show voters like this one, so if it makes you feel better, have at it, folks.

The one measure we do not support is Proposition 1B. Placed on the ballot to obtain teachers unions’ support for Proposition 1A, it would require the state to put aside a certain amount of money each year to “repay” the schools billions of dollars they would have received this year and next under terms of Proposition 98.

The schools certainly can use the money, but such locked-in spending is exactly the kind of ballot-box budgeting that has gotten the state in this mess. Voters have passed 17 similar measures since 1978, when they approved Proposition 13, the historic property-tax measure. Taken together, they make it almost impossible for lawmakers to craft a budget, especially one that must obtain two-thirds approval for passage. If we want our legislators to craft good budgets and do so on time, we need to stop putting them in the fiscal equivalent of strait jackets.