The budget standoff, which threatens some basic state services, including health care, has placed a renewed spotlight on California’s uniquely high threshold for passing a budget. Only 2 other states, Arkansas and Rhode Island, require a 2/3 vote to pass a budget. Because of this, 14 out of 120 legislators can hold up budget for the entire state of California.
Saturday’s Sacramento Bee reminded readers that voters had a chance to change these rules in March 2004, and failed to do so. On that ballot, Proposition 56 would have made several changes to the budget process, from denying payment to legislators when a budget isn’t completed, to changing the threshold required for passage to 55%. Health Access California was a proud leading sponsor of that effort, and this year’s impasse only serves to reinforce our position.
Why didn’t Prop 56 pass? We put out our quick analysis of the vote at the time. In short, the timing was way off:
A combination of factors conspired against Proposition 56. With no real contest in the presidential primary contest, it was a remarkably low turnout election, with an electorate seemingly exhausted from the historic recall election just a few months ago. The recall and change in Administrations also changed the dynamic of the race: much of the voter demand for change had dissipated. The reform agenda in the Budget Accountability Act was overwhelmed by the focus on Propositions 57 & 58, which were similar sounding and were also billed as the solution to the state’s budget crisis. Among the choices, Proposition 56 was the only initiative that had a funded opposition, which was successful in raising questions about the provisions. When voters are confused about an issue, they tend to vote “no.” And in this case, they felt they did their part to address the budget problem by supporting 57 & 58, something that was supported by most political leaders.
Given the current situation, maybe the Governor is having second thoughts about not supporting Prop 56 back then.