If California law required a simple majority of the Legislature to pass the state budget, lawmakers would have far less difficulty passing an annual budget by the June 15 deadline set forth by the state Constitution.
That’s the argument put forward by sponsors of Proposition 25, a measure that would repeal the current Constitutional requirement that the state budget be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature before going to the Governor for his (or her) signature.
Prop. 25 would treat a symptom of the state’s dysfunctional budget process, but fail to address its root cause – the structural deficit built into the state budget that makes it all but impossible for lawmakers to balance the books except during periods of extraordinary economic growth, like the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and housing boom of the mid-2000s.
Indeed, more than 90 percent of the state’s General Fund is “non-discretionary,” which means spending is dictated by state or federal law or by judicial mandate. So, out of the state $87.5 billion budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, lawmakers have had a say over less than $8.7 billion of it.
That’s why the Legislature faced a $19 billion budget gap this year. That’s why it took a record 100 days after the start of the fiscal year for the Governor finally to sign the state budget.
What California needs is a complete overhaul of the state budget process with every aspect of the broken down process on the table.
It would mean rewriting the state Constitution to reduce, if not eliminate altogether, non-discretionary spending requirements, to remove impediments to creating new taxes and increasing existing taxes and, then and only then, repealing the requirement of a supermajority to pass a state budget.
If all those reforms were included in a ballot measure, it would be something worthy of support by California voters.