The clock is ticking on the governor's plan to let voters decide between a balanced approach to addressing California's budget gap or an "all-cuts" budget that would slash deeply into education, public safety and other priorities.
It's another indication that instead of fostering compromise, California's requirement for a supermajority vote to increase revenues -- a threshold that only 12 states in the nation have to meet -- has become a major obstacle to governing and fiscal responsibility.
Last week, the legislative majority took steps to close one-half of the current $27 billion budget gap with gut-wrenching cuts that will limit young Californians' ability to obtain a college education, place thousands of the state's children at risk of homelessness, and make it immeasurably tougher for parents to move from welfare to work.
Closing the remainder of the gap hinges on the governor's plan to ask voters to extend three modest tax hikes imposed in 2009. According to the most recent Field Poll, California voters of both parties say they want the opportunity to decide whether to extend the temporary taxes in order to prevent deeper cuts. Voters also support a balanced approach of spending cuts and new revenues rather than cuts alone.
Opponents of this balanced approach to the state's budget crisis continue to believe that they can defy the principles of basic budgeting and common sense. Some oppose the harsh cuts approved by the majority of lawmakers, while at the same time refusing to support measures that would prevent the necessity for even deeper, more painful reductions -- including massive cuts to public schools -- that would be required by an "all cuts" budget.
Some opponents of the governor's plan argue that the voters have already spoken on these same tax questions, pointing to the defeat of Proposition 1A in 2009. They are wrong. Proposition 1A coupled a brief extension of the temporary tax measures with a permanent budget straitjacket, limiting the state's ability to address future policy, demographic, and economic challenges.
Polling immediately after the May 2009 election clearly demonstrates that even opponents of Proposition 1A strongly supported additional taxes to help bridge the state's massive budget shortfall. Ironically, many of the same lawmakers that oppose giving the voters the right to decide on the tax extensions are calling for another vote on a spending cap -- something voters have defeated twice since 2005.
The Great Recession pummeled California's low- and middle-income families and resulted in devastating cuts to schools and services that seniors and families rely on for basic subsistence. Years of delay in adopting real solutions have only made the problems grow worse.
Further delay will leave the state in an even deeper hole and require even tougher cuts -- or additional taxes -- than would be needed if the Legislature acted swiftly to place a measure on the ballot before the start of the new budget year. Voters deserve the chance at a clear up-or-down vote in June to determine how we close the current gap and begin to repair the public structures that made California great.
Jean Ross is executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based nonpartisan fiscal and policy research group.