Prop 31 Cheat Sheet: California Government Performance and Accountability

Prop 31 is a sort of omnibus initiative, being both a constitutional amendment and a statute (What's the difference? Read here). Its stated purpose is to improve government efficiency and accountability, and it's not a lightweight read. The legislative analyst has made it a little more digestible by breaking it down into four key proposals.

First, it would give local governments greater say in how they coordinate public services. Counties, cities, schools, and other entities could create their own plans for implementing state-funded programs, for instance, and they would be able to use a portion of state sales and property taxes to pay for them. The legislature would have an opportunity to veto any changes to state-funded programs.

Second, it would limit the legislature's ability to pass certain bills that would increase spending or decrease revenues by more than $25 million in a fiscal year. Legislators would have to show how that shift would be accounted for either by raising revenues or by reducing expenditures, respectively. The rule applies only to bills that create or expand state departments or programs or to those that create state-mandated local programs. There are some exemptions. The rule would not apply, for instance, to one-time spending bills, funding that is required by federal law, or increases to state employee compensation due to collective bargaining agreements. Also, the legislature would be required to post almost all new bills for public viewing at least three days before voting on them.

Third, it would allow the governor to unilaterally cut spending during fiscal emergencies. The governor would first have to declare the emergency, at which point the legislature would have 45 days to address it. If the legislature failed to act, the governor could begin making reductions, though very limited ones, to General Fund spending. Spending required by the Constitution or federal law would be off limits. That's a majority of the General Fund, including most school spending, debt service, pension contributions and more, according to the legislative analyst. The legislature could override the cuts with a two-thirds majority.

Fourth, it would modify state budgeting procedures. Budgets would be drawn for two years rather than one, and the legislature would be required to run performance reviews of all state-funded programs every five years. State and local governments would be required to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs by describing how they have met certain objectives.

WHAT YOUR VOTE MEANS
Voting YES means that you want to implement the proposed changes to state laws and the Constitution.

Voting NO means that you reject Prop 31 and do not want to change existing laws.

WHO/WHAT IT WOULD AFFECT
Governor: The governor would be allowed to bypass the state legislature to make certain emergency spending cuts.

State Legislature: The legislature would face new restrictions on the passage of certain bills and would be required to wait at least three days after publicly posting a bill before they could vote on it. State government stands to lose up to $200 million a year in diverted sales taxes as local governments move to create of modify their public service programs. The legislature would also be required to oversee full performance reviews of all state-funded programs every five years, and it would shift to a two-year budgeting process instead of redoing the budget annually. The cost of the new budgeting process could be in the millions to tens of millions a year.

Local Governments: Cities, counties, schools and other local government entities would gain greater autonomy over the implementation of public programs. They could collectively see an increase of $200 million a year from diverted state sales taxes. The new budgeting and oversight procedures could cost into the tens of millions each year.

WHO'S BEHIND IT
Major backers of the measure include:

  • Nicholas Berggruen Institute
  • California Forward
  • Lenny Mendonca
  • Barclay Simpson
  • Thomas McKernan

WHO'S AGAINST IT
Major opponents include:

  • California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
  • Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs

ARGUMENTS BEING MADE FOR

  • Politicians spend more money than state government brings in, and budgets are often based on the influence of special interests rather than the outcome Californians want to achieve. Prop 31 would force politicians to live within their means, and it gives voters and taxpayers critical information to hold politicians accountable.

  • Prop 31 does not raise taxes, increase costs to taxpayers or set up any new government bureaucracy. It makes clear that its provisions should be implemented with existing resources and it will generate savings by returning tax dollars to cities and counties.

  • Prop 31 will lessen the state temptation to borrow and spend.

  • A two-year state budget prevents politicians from passing short-term budget gimmicks and requires them instead to develop long-term fiscal solutions.

  • Prop 31 meets the highest standards of constitutional change requirements. It is well written, legally sound, and will clearly improve the budget process and governance of California.

ARGUMENTS BEING MADE AGAINST

  • Prop 31 is so poorly written and contradictory that it will lead to lawsuits and confusion, not reform.

  • It will shift $200 million from education and other vital functions to fund experimental county programs.

  • Prop 31 will prevent the state from increasing funding for programs like education unless it raises taxes or cuts other programs, even when there is money available from a budget surplus.

  • It prevents the state from cutting taxes unless it raises other taxes or cuts programs, even when there is money available from a budget surplus.

  • It threatens air and water quality, public health, and public safety by allowing counties to override or alter critical state laws.

  • Prop 31 will cost tens of millions of dollars a year for additional government process and bureaucracy to do what government is already supposed to do.

Top Photo: California State Capitol in Sacramento. | Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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