California Forward Full Steam Ahead


One of the big guessing games in Sacramento has revolved around the political arm of California Forward, the foundation-backed good government group.

The Cailfornia Forward Action Fund had collected enough signatures to qualify a complicated budget and government reform initiative for the November ballot.

But it had delayed filing the signatures, as it attempted to work out a compromise with interest groups and legislators who disliked some aspects of the measure -- particularly a "pay go" requirement that would force lawmakers to come up with offsetting revenues or cuts when it increased spending or cut taxes beyond a $25 million threshhold.

Now we have an answer: California Forward Action Fund is going forward with its ballot initiative and turning in its signatures, according to a statement from Roger Salazar, a leading political strategist who works with the group.

That, however, doesn't foreclose reaching a deal on an alternative legislative measure.

Yes, that could conceivably mean there are two measures on the ballot -- the original initiative and a legislative compromise.

But that's not unprecedented. On a couple of occasions over the past decade, an interest group or person has qualified a measure for the ballot -- only to tell voters not to adopt it and instead support a different compromise measure.

Salazar's full statement, from May 7, also outlines a policy bottom line for California Forward.

In particular, the action fund seems willing to drop the "pay go" provision but is insisting on changes in the budget calendar (replacing one year budgets with two year budgets), a requirement that legislation be available and transparent (so public and lawmakers have a real chance to read it before voting on it), and on a style of budgeting called "performance-based" budgeting, in which different agencies are evaluated, and receive funds, based at least in part on how well they do in meeting certain performance goals.

Here is the full statement:

"Today, the remaining signatures will be filed to qualify the Government Performance and Accountability Act (GPAA) for the November 2012 ballot. With the pending submission of other statewide initiatives, we are compelled to act to ensure timely compliance with Secretary of State requirements for signature verification.

In the spirit of compromise, we are committed to continuing negotiations with legislative leadership to provide a substitute initiative that includes California Forward’s core reforms — and puts off for another day the "Pay-Go" and "Local Strategic Action Plan" elements. While our research shows that each of the elements in the GPAA enjoy more than 80% of voter support, disagreements continue to exist on some elements of the initiative among important constituencies in California.

To be clear, we have provided the specific provisions of our reform effort that California Forward would agree to as part of a substitute initiative that can be placed on the ballot by a 2/3 vote of the legislature.

The critical elements of our budget reform measure must include:

1. Moving to a two-year state budget cycle.
2. Instituting performance-based budgeting for state and local governments.
3. Reviewing state programs through legislative oversight.
4. Ensuring greater transparency of legislation prior to approval.

We will continue our conversations with state leaders throughout the process.

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Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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