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California Proposition 31: 2-year state budget cycle

October 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Next month you'll have a chance to change the spending habits of state lawmakers. Proposition 31 is an effort to reform the legislature's budget process. But could it hurt the state during emergencies?

Sacramento is known for its penchant to spend. Government reformers say Proposition 31 attempts to fix that habit, which they say is out of control.

Among the provisions:

- It changes the state budget from an annual plan to a two-year cycle.

- It prohibits any new spending of $25 million or more, unless the tab is offset by an equal amount with new revenues or cuts of an equal amount to other programs.

- It gives the Governor more authority to cut the budget in fiscal emergencies when lawmakers don't act.

- It loosens some rules on how local governments can spend state money.

"Prop. 31 recognizes that state government is broken and citizens have lost confidence in their state government," said Bill Hauck, a California Forward board member. "This is a modest first step toward restoring confidence that state government knows how to spend taxpayers' money."

The trouble opponents have with this initiative is that it's inflexible. They say it'll be hard to find money for emergencies. In a state prone to wildfires and earthquakes, spending is not exactly predictable year to year.

Lawmakers who work on the state budget say they're worried about the complications contained in Prop. 31 and what that might mean when disaster strikes another layer of bureaucracy is added.

If Cal-Fire needs $50 million, for instance, the state has to find $50 million in cuts or $50 million in new taxes to offset the new expense.

And lawmakers tend to have long, drawn-out debates over money.

"Imagine this happens and you have to call back the Legislature to have a discussion," said state Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley), the Assembly Budget Chairman. "When there's an emergency, we need to just act as a state and help people and work on recovery and work on rescue."

The impact of Prop. 31 is unpredictable because many provisions are untested. But if approved, the changes are considered constitutional amendments and will be very difficult to alter later.

The general election is on November 6, 2012. Your vote can help decide many important issues for California. Over the next few weeks, Eyewitness News will focus on the propositions on the November ballot.


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