With the November election less than two weeks away, the media buzz is all about Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman. At the grass-roots level, activists have been organizing for Proposition 19 (marijuana) – and environmentalists have focused on defeating Prop 23. But the three propositions that arguably have the greatest impact on California’s future – Propositions 24, 25 and 26 – are barely getting any attention at all. The state budget may be a boring subject, but Sacramento will remain a dysfunctional cesspool that generations of elected officials cannot fix until we make structural changes. Getting rid of the two-thirds budget rule by passing Proposition 25 is a critical first step, and passing Prop 24 will undo some of the most recent damage that is driving the state to bankruptcy. But even passing Props 24 and 25 is not enough, because Proposition 26 threatens to make a terrible situation worse – by extending two-thirds to all fee hikes. In fact, Prop 26 could make the passage of Prop 25 and the defeat of Prop 23 virtually meaningless.
While progressives heave a sigh of relief that Jerry Brown has a slight lead even after Meg Whitman has shattered all spending records, I’m reminded of what my friend and fellow blogger David Dayen said years ago. Noam Chomsky could be elected Governor of California, and we’d all be shouting “sell-out” within months. The problems in our state government are so structural that no single politician or officeholder is going to improve things. If you want a sane budget process where a vocal minority of right-wing legislators can’t hold the state hostage for over 100 days, we need to pass Prop 25.
I have written about Prop 25 before, but it’s only a very incremental first step – and there are two other ballot propositions that are equally critical. The two-thirds requirement has made California a Blue State with an Alabama Budget every year – and we certainly saw this last year. At a time when the state had a multi-billion dollar deficit and made drastic cuts in higher education and social services, the legislature still managed to pass over $1.3 billion in corporate tax loopholes. Why? It was the only way to get a two-thirds vote.
Proposition 24 – called the Tax Fairness Act – would repeal three corporate tax loopholes that make no public policy sense, but were the casualties of Republican extortion to pass a budget (you can read more about them here.) Unless we get a majority vote to pass a budget, we will need to pass more equivalents to Prop 24 in the future – there is no reason why a blue state like California must fall prey to the demands of right-wing politicians from Fresno and Orange County year after year. Prop 24 is a perfect example of why we need to also pass Prop 25.
But Prop 26 – which the right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association put on the ballot – threatens to make these victories meaningless. One reason why progressives are not excited about Prop 25 is it allows a majority vote to pass a budget – while keeping a two-thirds requirement to raise taxes. Even if the Democratic legislature could finally pass a budget on time, the Republicans would simply refuse to raise any taxes (even if we’re the only oil-producing state in the country that doesn’t charge oil companies a severance tax on their profits.) In other words, we will still have devastating budget cuts.
However, the legislature can still pass reasonable fee hikes – such as a vehicle license fee. But if Prop 26 passes with Prop 25, we might as well be exactly where we are now. If Prop 25 fails and Prop 26 passes, it will take our state’s gridlock to a whole new level.
But Prop 26 is even worse. Environmentalists are focused on defeating Proposition 23, which would repeal AB 32 – California’s groundbreaking law to combat global warming. We have seen Texas oil companies pour millions into the state to pass Prop 23, but the Sierra Club and other groups have done a good job exposing their ulterior motives.
Even if we’re successful in defeating Prop 23, however, that victory will be meaningless if Prop 26 passes. Why? Because much of AB 32’s effectiveness relies on passing fee increases that would hold polluters accountable. And if Prop 26 requires a two-thirds vote for these fee hikes to pass, the practical effect is it would make AB 32 toothless.
Local governments are mobilizing to defeat Prop 26, as it would eviscerate any ability to raise revenue during these tough times. At 12:00 p.m. today on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco, State Senator Mark Leno and Board President David Chiu will join other Bay Area leaders in a “No on 26” press conference.
California voters are already filling out their absentee ballots. While they vote to pass Prop 19 and “no” on Prop 23, it’s important for them to also vote “yes” on Prop 24 and 25 – but most importantly, “no” on Prop 26. If we don’t get the word out, it could pass.