Backed by California Forward, a nonprofit that describes its mission as creating a "smart" government, the proposal would include changing the state budget from a one- to two-year cycle, prohibiting expenditures of $25 million or more by the Legislature unless revenues or spending cuts are first identified, and giving the governor the power to unilaterally cut the budget "during declared fiscal emergencies if (the) Legislature fails to act," according to the state's official ballot summary.
The initiative also includes performance goals and reviews for state programs and could shift $200 million annually in taxes from the state to local governments to provide public services.
The budget reform proposition is also intended to bring more transparency by requiring publication of bills at least three days prior to a legislative vote.
Despite its far-reaching aspirations, the initiative has been almost lost between the debates swirling around Proposition 30, the tax-raising initiative Gov. Jerry Brown has been stumping for, and Proposition 32, a campaign finance measure that labor unions have spent nearly $40 million to defeat.
In short, Prop. 31 aims to fundamentally change the way business is conducted in Sacramento.
Weighing in at 8,000 words, the initiative can be stultifying to the average voter, and critics say it is too broad and vague to be effective.
Mike Madrid, campaign manager for California Forward, counters by saying of the state's budget and fiscal woes, "it's a complex problem that requires complex solutions. There's no short fix."
Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Federation of Labor, which opposes the measure, says Prop. 31 creates more problems than it solves and adds layers of bureaucracy that will weigh down government.
"I think in the beginning it was well-intentioned, but ultimately it didn't solve problems and creates more," Smith said.
The initiative faces an uphill battle with nearly 2-1 opposition among voters, according to a recent Field Poll. Only 21 percent of voters polled said they were likely to support Prop. 31, while 40 percent were opposed and 39 percent undecided.
Plus, voters have traditionally opposed efforts to give the governor sweeping powers to cut the budget, rejecting initiatives with similar provisions in the 1990s and in 2005.
However, Madrid said, drastic times require drastic measures.
"We're in dire straits," Madrid said. "It's not theoretical anymore, it's real."
He added that the state's fiscal problems are drastically different than in prior elections.
Proponents of the proposition have poured about $3.5 million into the initiative, outspending opponents by more than 700 percent.
Labor groups, environmentalists, the Democratic Party and, curiously, the Tea Party, oppose the bill.
The bill may also suffer from certain bureaucratic verbiage -- such as "best practices," "prioritized spending" and "performance goals" -- that may turn off voters.
"(Voters) see (Prop. 31) as a confusing measure that would be bad ultimately for the state," Smith said.
Madrid urges voters to do their homework before they decide.
Papers in the Los Angeles News Group and others across the state have come out in favor of the initiative. Madrid said only the Sacramento Bee and Ventura Star-News have opposed it.
Whatever shortcomings the bulky proposition may have, Madrid said, "Few can credibly say it's not a step in the right direction."
Proposition 31YES means: Certain fiscal responsibilities of the Legislature and governor, including state and local budgeting and oversight procedures, would change. Local governments that create plans to coordinate services would receive funding from the state and could develop their own procedures for administering state programs.
NO means: The fiscal responsibilities of the Legislature and governor, including state and local budgeting and oversight procedures, would not change. Local governments would not be given (1) funding to implement new plans that coordinate services or (2) authority to develop their own procedures for administering state programs.
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