In 1998 California voters approved Proposition 10, taxing tobacco sales to pay for educational and health care programs for children under age 5 whose families are otherwise unable to afford those services (the First Five program). And in 2004 voters approved Proposition 63, levying a 1% surcharge on incomes over $1 million to finally reverse decades of deliberate underfunding of mental health services. These programs have been VERY successful and both programs have stable long-term funding.
Only in the twisted logic of the May 19 special election could that be seen as a bad thing.
Propositions 1D and 1E on the May 19 ballot are raids on the Prop 10 and Prop 63 programs, respectively. As the LA Times explained in their article on the propositions today:
The early childhood and mental health programs became prime targets for budget negotiators working to solve the state’s $42-billion deficit. They were sporting a budget surplus of about $2.5 billion each at a time when health and welfare programs funded the old-fashioned way — through the state’s general fund appropriations — were being stripped.
Backers say those surpluses were a fiscal mirage, because the money had been committed to future programs or was being saved for tough times.
Let’s be clear here – because Props 10 and 63 were a successful method of creating important programs and paying for them, they are now seen as viable targets for attack. The LA Times goes further and uses this as an occasion to criticize ballot box budgeting:
But the measures, Propositions 1D and 1E, also represent ballot-box budgeting coming back to haunt the California electorate.
Though they often complain that statehouse lawmakers spend like drunken sailors, the state’s voters have in recent decades repeatedly performed in much the same manner. Time and again they have approved propositions that critics say have combined to straitjacket the state’s budgetary process.
“The voters have been as responsible for this budget mess as anyone else,” said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor. “Election after election they have authorized money for this or that. And it ties the hands of the Legislature at budget time.”
I don’t buy this. True, I tend to reject the “ballot box budgeting is bad” argument generally speaking, but in particular it’s not appropriate for this situation. Especially when voters are being asked to do more ballot box budgeting. Voters haven’t “tied the legislature’s hands” by things like Prop 10 or Prop 63. What they’ve done is say “we like social programs, we like taxing people to pay for them, and since you have proved unwilling or unable to do it, we’ll do it instead.”
To criticize ballot box budgeting without explaining why it happens – because Prop 13 gutted the state’s ability to pay for core services and created the conservative veto through the 2/3 rule – is to miss the point almost entirely.
And it enables things like Props 1D and 1E, which seem designed to punish voters for having successfully funded important programs.
One-time program raids are not a solution to the budget mess anyway. Nothing the LA Times has included in this article does anything other than convince me a NO vote on Props 1D and 1E is the right move for our state.