Roughly 80 percent of respondents to a recent LA Times/USC poll say California is on the wrong track. Has the demand for change also peaked? Most respondants indicate fatalistic resignation over California’s declining fortunes. USC scholar Dan Schur notes,”You get angry when you think you can make a difference and make change…But the predominant mood of the electorate in California seems to be “What’s the use?”
Contrast this despair with California’s culture of direct democracy and political activism. Since 1911, Californians have had the ability to enact legislation by directly placing measures on the ballot. This has allowed Californians to not only enact laws but also amend the state’s Constitution. California Supreme Court Justice Robert George believes the system is dysfunctional. He offers three recommendations to rein it in, including letting the legislature into the process.
Not everyone is convinced all is lost. Repair California aims to place a measure on the November 2010 ballot to empower the people to call a Constitutional Convention in order to fix the rules under which California governs, including (perhaps ironically) the I&R process.
Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani makes the case in an op-ed in today’s New York Times for a state constitutional convention to address the state’s economic ills. New York is just behind New Jersey with the second highest state and local tax burden in the nation. And like other ailing states (California and New Jersey), New York is dealing with the recession by hiking taxes.
A constitutional convention would consider the rules and incentives under which the state and its elected officials operate. Giuliani makes seven specific recommendations including reforming the budget process, term limits, and a supermajority vote for tax increases.
The specific proposals he offers are not necessarily silver bullets. For instance, ensuring the budget adheres to generally accepted accounting principles is an excellent idea. A supermajority vote for tax increases may or may not be effective, depending on how it is linked to other rules — such as spending limits.
A strong tax and expenditure limit, like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Colorado, requires that voters approve any spending beyond what population growth and inflation allow.
Giuliani’s proposal is a good one because it gets to heart of the matter: the rules under which elected officials create fiscal policy. New York’s fiscal institutions need review and reform. It is something other states would do well to also consider.