By Anthony Wright
California is facing tough times right now. In Davis and across the state, we all see, or live, with daily reminders of deep cuts to health and human services, public education and other core services.
For many years, I’ve worked for reform of our budget process, and our state government, but Proposition 31 would make a bad situation worse, and put into our state Constitution experimental and badly drafted changes that will have disastrous results for our state.
Despite what its proponents promise, Proposition 31 reduces governmental transparency, accountability and flexibility — at exactly the wrong moment. It also locks us into a restrictive budget framework at a time when our state needs to be creative to meet the needs of its growing population.
First and foremost, Prop. 31 grants the governor new and unilateral powers to make cuts — without legislative review, oversight, hearings or discussion of the consequences. Voters in Davis and in California as a whole said no to this power shift in 2005 by rejecting Proposition 75. We should reject it again in Prop. 31.
Prop. 31 in particular endangers funding for health and human services programs, which don’t have constitutional protection. In the past few years alone, the state has imposed more than $15 billion in cuts to vital food, senior care and health programs at exactly the moment when struggling Californians and our economy have needed them most.
Also, Prop. 31 seeks to place into the state constitution a state “pay-as-you-go” requirement, which is a worthy concept — but the way the measure is written will tie the state Legislature’s hands to try to address basic needs, while providing huge exemptions for existing programs, bond debt and any programs instituted by ballot initiative. With such exemptions, it won’t actually restrict spending — but it will make it harder to the state to function effectively.
For example, Prop. 31 could limit our ability to take advantage of federal matching funds, where a small investment could bring in big bucks and significant savings in the long run. In the case of health coverage, California may have missed its opportunity 10 years ago to cover over 1 million children through the CHIP/Healthy Families program.
Another Prop. 31 provision allows local governments to pre-empt state laws. These localities could form “Community Strategic Action Plans” to potentially circumvent existing state laws that regulate workplace safety or clean water rules that protect us all. If we allow local municipalities to make up their own rules that contradict state ones already in place, it would be beyond problematic for those who depend on health and human services, or labor or environmental protections. Even if this isn’t an option taken by Davis or Yolo County, this would make it harder for us as Californians to set and meet state and federal goals in these key areas.
No one knows exactly how far-reaching and damaging the impacts of Proposition 31 would be. But any problems that are created would be difficult to fix, because Prop. 31 writes itself — more than 8,000 words of the initiative, longer than the U.S. Constitution — into the California Constitution. Only another expensive voter initiative could undo the change, meaning Californians would be stuck with the consequences for a generation or more.
Even the benign parts of Prop. 31 (like going to a two-year budget cycle) don’t belong in the Constitution, limiting the state’s flexibility to respond to issues and crises of the moment.
Today, Prop. 31 is opposed by a diverse coalition including the League of Women Voters of California, California League of Conservation Voters, the California Farm Bureau, the California Labor Federation, the California Teachers Association and the Health and Human Services Network of California. It’s even opposed by a diverse group of political activists from the California Democratic Party and the East Bay Tea Party.
Newspaper editorial boards from the Sacramento Bee to the Los Angeles Times also oppose Prop. 31. Please join this broad and diverse group to vote no on Prop. 31.
— Anthony Wright, a Davis resident, is executive director of Health Access of California and a founding member of the Health and Human Services Network of California, which opposes Proposition 31.