Election 2010: Propositions 25 and 26 – Should passing the state budget be easier? | SierraSun.com

Election 2010: Propositions 25 and 26 – Should passing the state budget be easier?

Michelle Rindels
Sun News Service

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. – As California’s budget delay stretches into its 17th week, a ballot initiative seeks to make the vote a bit easier.

Under current law, legislators must pass the budget with a two-third majority, which often leads to political gridlock: The Legislature has met its annual June 15 deadline five times since 1980.

Prop. 25 would allow a budget to pass with a simple majority – 50 percent plus one – and would dock legislator pay for each late day.

“This four-month delay causes lots of problems, since the state doesn’t pay its vendors,” said Margaret Joehnck of the Nevada County Democratic Party. Schools and government agencies often aren’t paid on time.

“There are a lot of effects way down the line,” she said.

Most states can pass a budget with a simple majority; California’s two-thirds rule was part of Prop. 13 tax reforms passed in 1978.

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While the measure is ahead in the latest polls – 46 percent favor it, and 30 percent oppose – it has lost popular support since July.

Under the new law, the majority party would not need support from the minority party to pass the budget.

The measure specifies that raising taxes would still require a two-thirds vote, but opponents are worried the proposition would allow legislators to raise revenues in the form of fees – which are often hard to distinguish from taxes.

“Everyone is concerned about a late budget,” said State Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley). “But the ones provided to us in June have all kinds of hidden fees.”

The proposition would give more power to urban counties at the expense of smaller, rural ones, Aanestad added.

“It would put the entire budget process in the hands of the majority, so half the state can be ignored,” Aanestad said. “The beautiful part of the two-thirds majority is that you entertain thoughts from both sides of the spectrum.”

A companion measure – Proposition 26 – would require a two-thirds vote for certain types of fees. Now, a fee increase requires a simple majority, while a tax increase requires a two-thirds vote.

“Over the years, there has been disagreement regarding the difference between regulatory fees and taxes, particularly when the money is raised to pay for a program of broad public benefit,” the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

Prop. 26 raises the approval threshold for “regulatory fees” – those that place requirements on businesses to achieve particular public goals. An example is a fee for companies that make products containing lead: The state uses revenues from the fees to pay for lead poisoning screening among children.

The measure also would expand the definition of a tax and a tax increase, making it more difficult to pass a state revenue-raising proposal.