California reform RIP?

Last June, SN&R’s cover featured a story on efforts to fix California’s constitution.

Last June, SN&R’s cover featured a story on efforts to fix California’s constitution.

Repair California is suspending itsballot campaign to open a constitutional convention in California. It wasn’t the only proposal out there for fixing our broken Golden State. But among those efforts that had a chance, it was the most ambitious.

Just this summer, the campaign seemed to have a lot momentum on its side. There’s widespread feeling that the state is broken, and that California’s crazy quilt constitution—with its 512 amendments and its paralyzing, contradictory anti-tax and autopilot budgeting rules—is to blame.

Possible reforms that would come out of a constitutional convention: major revisions to the budget process, fixing the initiative and referendum process to take it back from the corporations and other special interests, rolling back term limits, even switching to a unicameral Legislature (see “California renovation” by Cosmo Garvin; SN&R Feature; June 18, 2009).

Repair California organizers were so confident that they were onto something big, some even giddily speculated that the campaign could go truly grassroots and qualify the measure with volunteer signature gatherers, and skip the millions of dollars in campaign donations it usually takes to just reach the ballot.

They couldn’t.

The main reason Repair California gave for suspending the initiative campaign last week was a lack of money needed to pay signature gatherers.

Some observers are also blaming the public’s short attention span for the measure’s early death. The public can’t focus on reform measures that are complicated and dry. They tend to go for stuff that’s neatly summarized in a couple of catch phrases and keywords. You know the ones: “blowing up boxes,” “accountability” and so on.

Thankfully, there are still a few wonky reformers left on the field. Chief among them the group California Forward, which is pushing its own constitutional revision package—including ditching the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget, multiyear budgeting, and giving local governments more control over the property taxes they collect and the services they provide.

California Forward, led by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, is following a slightly different tack, hoping to build consensus in the state Legislature to put its package of reforms to voters.

“No, I’m not confident they will do it at all,” Hertzberg told SN&R back in the summer. But if the Legislature won’t act, his group has also threatened to go to the ballot.

But with only $80,000 in the bank and very little fundraising to speak of in the last year, that might be an empty threat.

Meanwhile, corporate-backed measures like PG&E’s Proposition 16 sail onto the ballot with no problem. Somebody really ought to fix that system.

Compiled from Snog.