Don’t Blame Voters for California’s Budget Woes
Big spending pols falsely claim citizen ballot initiatives have tied their hands.
By SHIKHA DALMIA, ADRIAN MOORE AND ADAM B. SUMMERS
With the Golden State still struggling to balance its books, politicians from both sides of the aisle have come up with a nifty way to avoid responsibility for the mess: Blame the voters.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, summed it up for his fellow pols recently by telling a reporter: “All of those propositions tell us how we must spend our money. . . . This is no way, of course, to run a state.” State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, has made similar comments in denouncing “ballot-box budgeting.”
Their indictment is false. Voters aren’t tying lawmakers’ hands too much, but too little. Here’s the background:
For decades, state officials have habitually proposed deep cuts to the most popular programs unless voters agree to higher taxes. Tired of being manipulated, voters have used the ballot initiative to put some programs off-limits.
Nevertheless, a 2003 analysis by John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiatives and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, found that no more than a third of California’s appropriations that year were locked in by voter initiatives so stringent that legislators couldn’t override them. Most of the appropriations—about $30 billion in 2003—were for Proposition 98, which passed in 1988 and mandates funding for K-12 education.