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Tuesday, September 09, 2008


The California budget absurdity

The California state budget is now 71 days overdue. No problem for those who like to rant about "big government." For others - not so much:
Children are being forced from state-funded child care centers - derailing their working poor parents' tenuous link to the workforce. College students lacking loan funds are dropping out. And non-profit agencies that have scrimped and hobbled through August face layoffs and closures in a September with no budget in sight.
Here's the absurdity - the California budget requires an undemocratic 2/3 supermajority to pass, which means that a minority of legislators (Republicans in this case) can hold the majority hostage.

What absolutely astonishes me is that I have not once during those 71 days, not from a newsperson, not from a politician, not from a pundit, not from a newspaper editorial or op-ed, seen anyone questioning the undemocratic nature of this situation, and calling for a legislative (constitutional) solution to this problem. The absurdity of the situation is simply taken as a given. People talk about "locking the legislators in a room until they reach a compromise," though why 64% of the legislature should "compromise" with 36% is beyond me.

Well, it turns out that four years ago there was such a proposition on the ballot, but it failed. Assemblyman Mark Leno gives a very good explanation of the history of this situation, and a discussion of that vote, here. Congress passes its budget with a simple majority vote. California is one of just three states in the nation, Rhode Island and Arkansas being the others, which requires a supermajority vote of 66 percent to pass its budget. It's bad enough that new taxes require such a supermajority. But a budget? The idea is absurd, and, as noted, completely undemocratic. Until that law is changed, the situation in California, even if temporarily resolved with a compromise, will remain a long-term problem.

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