The cornerstone of California’s upcoming special election is Proposition 1A, a constitutional amendment regarding the State’s budgeting practices. It’s a complicated agreement made between Democrats and Republicans desperate to sign off on a budget, and the legislation reeks of stale sweat and bad nerves. The major components:

The rainy day fund would more than double in size from 5% to 12.5% of the General Fund. Portions of the fund would be used to fund education and the rest would be set aside for either disaster relief or as insurance against future budget crises.

Temporary increases in sales taxes (SF went from 8.5% to 9.5%), vehicle licensing fees and income tax would be extended, the first for a year and the others for two.

California’s governor would be given powers to circumvent legislation and make budget cuts.

Many propositions mix good ideas in to make the bad ones easier to swallow. Obviously California’s budgeting practices have failed and the gridlocked State Reps have exacerbated money woes with their bitter political rivalries.

However, any budget that locks spending regardless of circumstances and gives unilateral authority to make cuts is questionable at best and undemocratic at its most severe. There is no plan for additional revenue, just a juggling of the available resources born from the severe situation we are currently in.

What’s especially onerous about the increase of the rainy day fund is that it forces budget cuts on top of those already proposed. When the Governor snarls and threatens to hack funding for schools, hospitals and social services unless the ballot initiatives pass he’s avoiding the obvious consequences of locking twice the amount of money away– less money to fund the very programs which are going to be cut regardless. Signing off on double-cuts while refusing to contemplate future revenue schemes is in poor taste, and making lasting decisions on how the State’s funding works during a highly volatile and stressful period seems short-sighted.

I’m not opposed to taxes and I appreciate the benefits of publicly funded projects. However, I am against flat-taxes such as those which were passed in February, specifically the hike in sales tax. Any situation which taxes the purchase of a loaf of bread the same for me as for a single mother on unemployment and as someone as rich as Schwarzenegger is inherently unfair. The Governor refuses to consider increasing other tax bases because Californians have suffered enough. This is disingenuous as we can all agree the single mother on unemployment suffers more than me and I suffer more than the billionaire Governor.

There are alternatives to a sales tax; San Francisco Chronicle writers Matier & Ross shrewdly point this out in a recent column. Corporations have been pumping money into advertising supporting the propositions, specifically major league sports teams, alcohol and cigarette manufacturers, amusement park operators and oil companies. Why? The two tax and one fee increase were passed instead of luxury taxes, such as admission to see the ball game or kick back with a cool Coors 16oz. If the choice is between increasing the cost of bread and the cost of someone’s idea of a good time, the decision should be so obvious it doesn’t require thought. Apparently the State legislators and Governor are oblivious to this.

On the subject of the third and final major component of Proposition 1A, I think you only need to examine what the current Governor is doing to decide how much power a single individual should wield over the public funds we all contribute to and upon which many depend. I will agree that year after year of political wrangling, highly publicized stalemates and poor compromises which serve as prelude to the annual budget need to end but handing the checkbook to one person is not a good idea.

Proponents of Prop. 1A, be they enthusiastic or resigned, have basically been pushing one message– we don’t have a choice. That’s a lie, we just need to make the right choice and this isn’t it. Programs are going to be cut, times are going to be much worse in the coming year but this measure does nothing to prevent these problems, it just alters the way the problem manifests and blames it on a bad economy.

Image of sleeping California Legislators taken from The Mess That Greenspan Made. That site credits the LA Times but the linked article has no picture, thus no real credit.

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