Friday, April 23, 2010

Having Their Cake and Eating It Too

Earlier this week we had a lively debate in Assembly Budget Committee regarding reducing the 2/3 vote on revenues, budget, and taxation. This is the second of four hearings the Budget Committee will hold to consider reform proposals from California Forward.

California Forward has been working for more than a year to find a compromise proposal to reform California’s dysfunctional budget system. Their proposal includes things that Democrats like but Republicans hate, like reducing the vote necessary to pass a budget to a majority vote; it also includes things that Republicans like but Democrats hate, like increasing the vote necessary to pass certain fees to a supermajority 2/3 vote. The California Forward proposal is the perfect example of a compromise: everyone gives a little something and no one walks away completely happy.

During this week’s debate, it became clear that the Republicans on the Budget Committee do not support changing the 2/3 vote required to adopt a budget. They spun this position as “protecting” the taxpayer. But a majority vote requirement seems to work for 47 other states, for the federal budget, and for every city and county in the US. Somehow all of those “unprotected” jurisdictions seem to function quite well and with a lot less drama at budget-time.

The issue is really about leverage—leverage that the minority party uses every year when it comes time to vote for the state budget. If the issue is really protection, then to be consistent we should also require a 2/3 supermajority vote to create new tax loopholes and to reduce taxes. Too often the price for passing a budget is creation of a new tax give-away. Such “protection” is illusory for the rest of the taxpayers who must then bear a greater share of the burden. Such “protection” is what leads us down the garden-path to more and more cuts to services that Californians value.

As we move forward on this debate, be on the lookout for a political trap being laid: California Forward has already built into its proposal compromises it believes are necessary to capture the support of both Democrat and Republican voters. In fact, polling done by California Forward shows that their proposal gets support from both parties if it manages to get onto the ballot. And California Forward has asked the State Legislature to vote to put it on the ballot. It takes a 2/3 vote to do so. Yet Republicans in the Assembly have thus far made it clear they don’t intend to provide the votes necessary to put the proposal on the ballot. So if Democrats vote to support the California Forward compromise, they will be voting for it without the support of the people with whom they are attempting to compromise. This then allows the Republicans to take the ostensibly reasonable position that there are proposals in the California Forward initiative that they can support and we should all just move forward with those proposals alone, thereby making themselves the “champions” of reform and transforming Democrats into the blockers of reform.

Every year Republicans argue that the Legislature should move forward initially with those items in the budget that we supposedly “all” support, i.e., cuts to services, and reserve the remaining issues for another day. Thus far, we have refused to fall into this trap and have insisted that all issues be negotiated together.

Let’s not fall for it in negotiating budgetary reforms. If we do, we are only negotiating with ourselves.