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California's reliance on the referendum process has rendered state government dysfunctional, state Supreme Court Justice Ronald George said in a speech to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Mass., it was reported Sunday.
With state finances in dire straits, in part due to mandates from ballot initiatives, several groups, right and left, are clamoring for changes to the state constitution, The New York Times reported. A conference on constitutional reform is scheduled in Sacramento this week.
A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to comment to the newspaper on George's Saturday night speech.
George said that perhaps the "most consequential" impact of the referendum process is that it limits "how elected officials may raise and spend revenue."
Lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a "fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement -- imposed at the ballot box -- for raising taxes.
"Much of this constitutional and statutory structure has been brought about not by legislative fact-gathering and deliberation, but rather by the approval of voter initiative measures, often funded by special interests. These interests are allowed under the law to pay a bounty to signature-gatherers for each signer. Frequent amendments - coupled with the implicit threat of more in the future - have rendered our state government dysfunctional, at least in times of severe economic decline."
George, a Republican appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1991, was critical of a 2008 voter initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California.
In May 2008 the Supreme Court struck down the state's statutes limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, with an opinion written by Justice George citing a 1948 decision that reversed the state's interracial marriages ban.
But in the November elections that year, a ballot measure known as Proposition 8 amended the constitution to override the court.
Citing a successful ballot initiative that same Election Day that regulated the confinement of fowl in coops, Justice George said, "Chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them," the newspaper reported.
George said Californians need to consider some modicum of reform.