The initiative is a collection of reforms produced from years of work by California Forward, the bipartisan group that earlier supported the top-two primary and the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which were approved by voters. These reforms should gradually make the Legislature more accountable to every Californian.
Proposition 31 should do the same. It will help lawmakers make better decisions and give local governments sharper tools to solve complex problems.
Its most important section would require that bills be made public at least three days before a vote in the Legislature. That would help prevent fiascoes like last month's pension reform, when a bill was rushed through before experts - or even lawmakers - could decipher its highly technical language.
Proposition 31 also establishes a two-year budget cycle and requires performance goals and reviews of all programs. The Legislature would have to evaluate whether programs are working and decide whether to fix or kill the ones that aren't. And the measure prohibits the Legislature from creating ongoing programs that cost $25 million or more a year without saying where the money will come from. It won't, as critics contend, prevent spending surplus money in a given year - but the Legislature can't commit to long-term spending without a funding source.
This portion of the measure also should have applied to initiatives. If it passes, new spending programs may just end up on the ballot. Still, it's a good start.
Proposition 31 includes two more controversial provisions. One would allow the governor to make spending cuts in an emergency if the Legislature refuses. Some believe this gives too much power to the governor, but we think it's a fairly mild reform: The Legislature has to do very little to avoid triggering the governor's powers.
The section that's most confusing would allow local governments to join forces to work on intractable problems - reducing homelessness, say, or increasing the high school graduation rate. If counties, cities and school districts agree to a Community Strategic Action Plan, they can gain relief from some state requirements and have access to a small pot of money.
Some environmentalists say this could enable local governments to evade the California Environmental Quality Act. But Proposition 31 has plenty of checks and balances; these plans, which will be relatively rare, must be approved by a host of elected officials, and the Legislature can veto them. Moreover, they are designed to help provide services, not build projects. CEQA shouldn't apply.
Ideally, this initiative would be clearer and simpler, but government is messy. Proposition 31 would help make it more efficient and accountable. Vote yes.