Over at Calbuzz this morning, former Assemblymember and current Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley examines the Con-Con and California Forward reform proposals and pronounces them both “outstanding” methods of fixing what is broken in our state. Keeley is a member of the board of California Forward, but doesn’t see any competition or rivalry between the two high-profile efforts to address California’s governance crisis:
Either of these ways of getting to the place where there is a spirited debate and decision by the voters is an outstanding idea. The difference between the two is the difference between substance and form. This is not a comparative judgment of either. They are not the same.
Cal Forward is pushing substantive proposals flowing from the contemporary state of agreement regarding meaningful budget and fiscal reform of the miserable budget process we all seem to loath.
The Bay Area Council’s Con-Con proposal is about form and it takes more time. It may (or may not) produce the same or similar set of budget and fiscal reforms. The Con-Con could give us a better outcome, or not.
It’s not as if we’ve had about all the reform we can take. It seems more like we ain’t getting enough. Let’s get on with all of it.
Keeley is likely trying to play down any potential rivalry between the two proposals. But what I’ve found more interesting about the two proposals in recent weeks is just how similar they really are.
Keeley’s argument is that the CA Forward plan offers specific, substantive changes, whereas the Bay Area Council’s Constitutional Convention plan would offer the “form” in which changes to the Constitution could occur. CA Forward is specific, the Con-Con less so.
And yet both are designed in very similar ways. Both groups are led by business-friendly moderates who believe that the state’s budget process is broken, but who do not believe we either can or should propose a more fundamental set of changes to the way the state has done business since 1978.
The Con-Con initiatives are designed to produce center-right outcomes. The Con-Con will not be able to propose fixes to constitutional language on taxes, but is mandated to examine “government efficiency” in the form of program reviews, is mandated to look at rules regarding state spending, and has a delegate selection model that favors the center-right at the expense of progressives.
Similarly, the California Forward proposals would produce a center-right set of outcomes, eliminating the 2/3 rule for budgets but preserving it for revenue, and extending it to most fees (and I agree with Calbuzz that this means the negation of the Sinclair Paints decision). They also would create a commission to review all government programs, a commission that could kill a program if it doesn’t meet certain targeted goals, a kind of “No Child Left Behind” for everything state government does. They do offer a complicated way for local governments to raise revenue by majority votes.
How will these fare at the ballot box? My sense is that the Con-Con has a better chance than do California Forward’s plans. By being more specific, and by offering some things that are inherently anti-progressive, they’re going to ensure strident opposition from both the right and the left, which may be enough to sink the package.
The Con-Con may find opposition from the left, which sees it as rigged to deny them a chance to make their case for change, and the right, which is quite happy with the status quo. And yet the Con-Con has a better chance of survival because it isn’t as specific. It offers voters the chance to say “we want reform, now go make it happen” without having to commit to supporting any specific policy proposal. That seems to be the reason why it is polling well so far.
We will see what voters decide in November 2010.