Copyright 2011 by John T. Reed
In California, we have the ability to pass laws and amendments to the state constitution by referendum.
In 1978, we famously passed Proposition 13 which lowered our property taxes from about 3% of the value of your property to 1% of your original purchase price. I now pause while I and all Californians reading this genuflect at the mention of Prop 13. (Massachusetts imitated California, but their “Proposition 2 1/2” actually lowered their property taxes down to roughly our BEFORE-Prop-13 level. Pikers!)
Our property taxes can go up by a maximum of 2% per year, but can also go down by an unlimited amount. Last year they went down because of the housing crisis fall in values. When I say go up by 2% per year, I mean they can go up from 1.00% to 1.02$ the first year, not from 1% to 3%.
Our house is worth something like $1.2 million. Our annual property taxes are currently $7,018.68. Eat your hearts out states with no referendums or who are too wimpy to use them.
Prop 13 was an amendment to the CA Constitution, not just a law. After it passed, the liberals went nuts raising every other type of tax to compensate. Howard Jarvis had been one of the leaders of the Prop 13 movement. (He and I were the speakers whose photos were on the cover of the 1979 National Apartment Association convention brochure.) The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association still exists. Howard does not.
After Prop 13, Howard led another ballot initiative (another name for referendum) that slammed shut all the other ways the liberals were trying to raise taxes, mostly income taxes and sales taxes. Basically, since those referendums, you need a 2/3 majority in the legislature to raise any taxes. The legislature is perennially dominated by Democrats, but they can rarely get 2/3 to raise taxes.
A few bad referendums
Not all our referendums are good. The California Coastal Commission was a disaster, but the public is too dumb to realize is so it lives on. We also imposed price controls of a sort on insurance with another (Proposition 103). Price controls are always disastrous eventually.
Generally, however, the referendums that have won have been fantastic as our former governator would say.
Another referendum said redistricting could no longer be done by legislators. That was strengthened and clarified by Prop 20 in 2010. The Dems were shamelessly Gerrymandering and it was becoming impossible to elect any moderates because most of the legislative elections were decided in Democrat primaries where the one who was most socialist would get the most votes. Gerrymanderingrendered the general elections meaningless because so many districts had a 55% or 60% Democrat majority so as to guarantee Dems would win and waste as many Republican votes in that Democrat district as possible. Republicans do the same thing when they get the chance, but if the Gerrymandering is really successful, the other party never again wins a majority.
The 2010 census is the first where a non-partisan commission drew up the new district boundaries in California. They recently released their proposed new boundaries.
What a refreshing change! The newspapers have recently published maps of the old, Gerrymandered district boundaries and the proposed new ones. You can see the sleazy politician prior boundaries that look like snakes as they slalom around Republican strongholds dividing Republicans up so they are almost always in districts where they are a minority. And next to them are the newboundaries that look like counties or neighborhoods.
Republicans are a bit disappointed because the new boundaries do not insure Republican control of the legislature, but that was never the intent. What they probably do mean is that the choice of legislators will be decided in the general elections by members of both parties and independents instead of just being decided in Democrat primaries by liberal nut jobs. That should produce a moremoderate California legislature that can gather the 2/3 needed to raise some taxes and/or the majority needed to cut spending.
As you probably know, CA has been running deficits for the last several years.. Those have never been allowed by the CA constitution. Last week, CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the budget his fellow Democrats just passed. Why? It called for more borrowing and relied on smoke and mirrors gimmicks to claim balance.
Real accountability for the legislators
That brings me to yet another referendum we passed last November: Proposition 25. It says a mere majority can now pass a budget—as long as there are no tax increases. Those still need 2/3. Democrats were the big pushers of Prop 25.
But guess what else it says, and had to say to get enough votes?
If the California state legislature does not pass a balanced budget by the annual June 15th deadline, their compensation for being legislators stops. This pay and expenses, about $400 a day, cease. The state saves about $50,000 a day by not paying them.
Who decides whether the budget is balanced for that purpose? The State Controller, an elected official who at the moment is a Democrat, John Chiang.
Yesterday he decided that the budget the legislature submitted was not balanced—$1.85 billion short. On the contrary, he said it was incomplete, unbalanced, and had factual and math errors.
If the Democrats don’t like it, it must be unconstitutional, even if they sponsored it
The Democrats went nuts when their fellow Democrat vetoed the budget. Now they are going nuts again about the Controller’s decision. They’re gonna sue and all that. Well, they’re probably gonna lose. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association is offering to pay Chiang’s legal expenses. The state will probably pay those expenses and argue the case with in-house lawyers and I expect the CA Supreme Court will tell the legislators,
You know, you guys backed this proposition. It says what it says. The voters approved it. You do work for them, you know? Not just your public employee union contributors. The Controller and the Governor are both right to say this is a BS budget. How’s about you do your damned job for once and knock off the left-wing politics?
Basically, Democrats from the President and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on down to the state level are increasingly fed up with these annoying beings called voters. I wonder how much longer they will put up with us.
Representative democracy does not work
My big point is representative democracy does not work. Seemed like a good idea at the time the Constitution was written. But it has proven to be a disaster. It gives politicians blank checks drawn on the taxpayers’ accounts. Politicians are evil per se. They are financially irresponsible almost by definition.
Our various entitlement progoams are going to bankrupt the federal government at some unknown, but not far off, point. Our representatives in Congress seem incapable of even acknowledging that problem, let alone taking responsibility for it and fixing it.
We need more direct democracy, a.k.a. referendums. We need a federal constitutional amendment to let us hold binding national referendums.
Constitutional amendments are hard to get ratified. There have only been 27 in 222 years or about one every eight years.
Furthermore, they have to be ratified by three quarters of our state legislatures. And a national binding referendums amendment would dramatically reduce the power of the Congress. Will their state counterparts want to do such a thing? Certainly California Democrats hate the right of their subjects in that state to enact binding initiatives.
Nevertheless, we still need to do this. It might take a new party whose main party platform plank is to amend the Constitution in various ways including the enabling of national binding referendums. This party would have to achieve a majority in 3/4 of the state legislatures.
It is possible but obviously not imminent. What IS imminent is bankruptcy of the federal government.
The states, on the other hand, are generally not going to go bankrupt because they already have better constitutions that, in pertinent part, prohibit deficit spending and, in many states, enable referendums.
The right thing, finally—overnight and with little debate
After years of wrangling, wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Democrats in the California legislature got hit with a veto of their June 15th budget on June 16th and got their pay stopped on June 21st because their budget was not truly balanced as required by the state constitution. After about a week of more wailing and gnashing of teeth, Democrat governor Jerry Brown, exerting something called leadership (are you listening Barack Obama?), called the Democrat legislators into a meeting, told them what they needed to do, and they did it overnight on June 28th “with remarkably little debate” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
We even got a tax cut out of it. Our state sales tax will go from 9.5% to 8.5%. How did the California Democrats, who hate tax cuts almost as much as they hate white sugar, agree to a tax cut? The sales tax rate had been “temporarily” raised a couple of years ago. Democrats insisted on extending it. But they were stopped by the past referendums that require 2/3 votes for tax increases. So the temporary sales tax hike turned to to be temporary after all. It was set to expire on 6/30/11 and it will.
Isn’t it amazing what politicians can do when you give them no choice but the right thing?
How do you do that? In California, by using referendums to prohibit all the wrong choices.
At the federal level, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
John T. Reed