Ballot box initiatives have boomerang effect

Freedom New Mexico

Good-government activists have correctly identified “ballot-box budgeting” — when voters approve costly new spending initiatives at the ballot box — as one of the ongoing fiscal problems faced by California, which continually is troubled by multibillion-dollar budget deficits.

Toward that end, two Democratic legislators have introduced bills that would require that any initiative that increases costs to the budget would have to first identify new funding sources.

On the surface, the legislation sounds appealing, but a deeper look reveals one of the more dangerous legislative efforts now moving forward in the Capitol. If the supporters have their way and the measure passes (and is approved by voters, who must OK any change in the initiative process), then the initiative process is done as we now know it. Californians would lose their ability to roll back taxes or do much of anything to put a check on the Legislature’s free-spending ways.

The Assembly measure, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, “prohibits ballot initiatives from creating a new government program without first identifying how the program would be paid for,” according to the explanation on Gatto’s website. But this is a disingenuous explanation. Few of us want new government programs created, especially if no funding source is identified. But ACA6 considers any cutback in government taxation as a cost to the government.

So, it would curtail taxpayer-friendly measures from getting to the ballot — for instance, Prop. 13, 1978’s historic property tax limitation that kept Californians from being taxed out of their homes. ACA6 is now moving ahead in the Assembly.

The similar SCA4 (now on the suspense file, which means it essentially is on hold) in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. He is one of the Legislature’s biggest boosters of the public employee union agenda. It’s ironic to hear legislators who champion, say, unsustainable pensions introduce measures that supposedly advance fiscal responsibility. That should be a clue of what’s at work with these measures. The anti-ballot- budgeting measures of course exempt bond measures from the various restrictions, which reminds us again that these bills are meant to stop anti-tax efforts, not to make it tougher for the government to tax and spend the state into oblivion.

As SCA4’s language explains, “This measure would prohibit an initiative measure that would result in a net increase in state or local government costs other than costs attributable to the issuance, sale, or repayment of bonds, from being submitted to the electors or having any effect unless and until the Legislative Analyst and the Director of Finance jointly determine that the initiative measure provides for additional revenues in an amount that meets or exceeds the net increase in costs.”