Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053: A recipe for endless California-style gridlock

Editor's Note (Andrew): This morning, we are pleased to welcome Stephen Green to the NPI Advocate. Stephen worked for more than two decades at the Sacramento Bee covering the California statehouse before retiring in 1999. He previously edited a book on Golden State politics and government, the California Political Almanac. In this special guest post, he explains how California's version of Initiative 1053 has resulted in endless gridlock and paralyzed government.

This fall, Washington voters are being asked to approve Initiative 1053, a Tim Eyman ballot measure that would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of Washington's Legislature to raise revenue.

If you’re wondering how to vote, look south.

California has had the two-thirds requirement in one form or another since 1922. It has caused decades of legislative gridlock and the inability to pass state budgets. That, in turn, has disrupted vital functions of state government and damaged the economy in Sacramento County where the capitol is located.

Requiring a two-thirds vote to pass legislation is unquestionably undemocratic. The majority no longer rules. Such a scheme gives veto power to a small minority of lawmakers. If I-1053 passes, seventeen state senators will have the ability to hold up revenue bills supported by Washington's one hundred and thirty other lawmakers!

Most budgets contain tax changes and revisions. That, among other factors requiring a two-thirds vote, allows a minority of legislators in California to hold up passage of the state budget indefinitely. And they often do. Some even hold up a budget so they can extort pork for their districts.

California's Constitution requires that the Legislature pass a budget by June 15th and receive the governor's approval before June ends. In the last twelve years, the June 15th deadline has never been met. The closest the Legislature has come to being on time was June 20th, and they were still late.

We are now into September and California has yet to enact a budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. And no settlement is in sight.

When California doesn't have a budget in place, people who do business with the state — vendors, suppliers, consultants, contractors — can't be paid. Most of them are small business operators.

Stalled budgets have stopped highway construction.

Nursing home inspectors haven't been able to travel. Broken down air circulation equipment in buildings hasn't been fixed.

If there is no budget by August 1st, many categories of state workers don't get paid. Their health-care premiums and union dues are not paid. There are no state employee payments to the state treasury or Social Security.

If an employee has a garnishment for child support or a debt, no payment is made. Credit unions and some banks routinely make low-interest loans to state workers who are not being paid. Nonetheless, many unpaid workers simply cut back on spending.

Sacramento County is home to 68,000 people receiving state paychecks. When state workers aren't being paid, retailers and restaurateurs feel it. Some simply close up until a budget is in place — and lay off their employees.

A stalled budget also keeps government from functioning as it should. People who are seeking licenses from the state (everyone from barbers, morticians, nurses, doctors and etc.) can't get a license to work.

We've been in situations where school has been starting up in the fall and new teachers haven't received their teaching credentials from the state. State agencies run out of postage money. Tax refunds are delayed.

It's a mess.

Washington has a chance to learn from California. Requiring a two thirds vote to raise revenue is easily the biggest, most disruptive mistake that California has made. It's a recipe for endless gridlock and nonfunctioning government.

On or before this November 2nd, cast a vote for uncommon sense and vote NO on Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053.


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