Prop. 31: local control, accountability

By From page A8 | October 17, 2012

Local support

Proposition 31 has been endorsed by the local group Saving California Communities as well as the Yolo County Board of Supervisors; Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza and Council members Dan Wolk, Lucas Frerichs and Rochelle Swanson; Davis Board of Education members Susan Lovenburg and Sheila Allen; and state Sen. Lois Wolk

By Jim Mayer

As the executive director of California Forward and the former executive director of the state Little Hoover Commission, I have worked closely with people trying to make government work — and been criticized by those standing in the way. Having served on two special district boards in Yolo County, I personally know how Proposition 31, the Government Performance and Accountability Act, will help communities like ours.

While the Great Recession has put the squeeze on everyone, state government was drowning in red ink before the recession began. Lawmakers spend most of their time every year waiting for a secret budget to be worked out behind closed doors — and honestly, it is not a budget worth waiting for.

While it allocates $130 billion, no one knows whether it will do any good — and no one even discussed how to make sure those billions could have been better spent to educate children, improve public safety and encourage job growth.

Proposition 31 would put in place a set of common-sense fiscal practices that have been proven in other states and nations to create stability, transparency and accountability for results.

With a two-year-budget, performance measures and oversight of every program, lawmakers will spend more of their time figuring out which programs are working. A majority of Californians believe government wastes a majority of their tax dollars. They are right, and these rules focus on that problem.

The measure would require the governor and the Legislature to identify how they would fund new programs or tax cuts. The state’s revenue is extremely volatile. In the good years, lawmakers expand programs, cut taxes and broaden pension benefits — whatever lobbyists want. In bad years, they start borrowing, even as the state’s credit rating sinks. PayGo is not a spending cap; government could still spend every dollar. But lawmakers could not make ongoing commitments that cannot be kept without putting every other program in jeopardy.

The measure also would allow the governor to reduce spending if the Legislature fails to take any action during a fiscal emergency. If the Legislature — with its enormous resources — refuses to take any action in response to a fiscal emergency, don’t you think the governor should be able to do something?

Finally, every bill — including the Budget Act — would have to be in print for three days before lawmakers can vote on it. This is a minimal standard for public transparency, but it’s one that really angers those who control the capital.

Now for just an ounce of local control: Counties, cities and schools are being asked to do more with less. Local government does essential work. We know from years of experience that they get more done for less when they work together. But not all local governments like to cooperate — and many state rules actually discourage it.

Proposition 31 provides voluntary authority and a few incentives to a county that is willing to work with its cities and schools to develop a strategic plan that addresses a common priority. Let’s say Yolo County wants to make sure that all children stay in school and out of trouble. The county, cities and schools in Yolo County would receive a little state funding and a little flexibility in how they manage state-financed services.

Yolo County could not exempt itself from any state rule, but it could propose a community alternative that the Legislature, if it felt Yolo County went too far, could veto.

There is nothing evil in Proposition 31, unless you believe the public does not have a right to know what government is doing. There are no flaws in Proposition 31, unless you believe the state has all of the answers, and the people who control the capital should control every community.

Proposition 31 does tie the hands of the Legislature, but only in those circumstances when lawmakers are likely to repeat mistakes. But it also gives them the tools to make the right decisions — to make sure programs are working, to allow communities to learn from each other and to begin to restore the public trust.

In short, Proposition 31 is a recipe to reduce waste and improve results. It would change the course of California’s history, from growing centralization to stronger communities. It would show elected officials — and those waiting to write California’s obituary — that Californians are still in charge of their destiny, and their dream is still alive.

Please join me in voting yes on Prop. 31.

— Jim Mayer is the executive director of California Forward.

Special to The Enterprise

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