Past Reflections on Prop 56…

There’s renewed interest in reforming the budget process, from “consequences” for legislators for not passing a budget (like having them lose their pay for every day the budget is late), to changing the abnormally high 2/3 threshold to pass a budget and taxes (so that a minority of legislators don’t have a veto over the entire process).

As Aurelio Rojas reports in the Sacramento Bee, a previous initiative attempted these and other reforms, but that effort, Proposition 56 in March 2004, only got 36% of the vote. But it is also important to remember context, including a recall election a few months earlier in October 2003 where Californians had a chance to vent their anger and believe that a new Governor was enough to fix the problem, and competing budget initiatives that had bipartisan support, which hindered attempts at making the case for the need of additional reform.

This is not revising history four years later. This is what we wrote the day after that election. (Yes, we were blogging back then!) I added emphasis, in part, to show how much things have, and haven’t changed since March 2004:

While health care was not on the ballot, this past election has significant impact on health care, and the shape of the budget debate moving forward. Propositions 57 & 58 passed by a wide margin, while Proposition 56 failed.

SETBACK ON 56: The defeat of Proposition 56, to be clear, was a setback for health care advocates. The reforms were needed to stop the ongoing cycle of late and irresponsible budgets, and to change the dynamic of the budget process that has gotten us into our current crisis. Advocates will have to find different ways to keep legislators accountable to budget decisions, including decisions to cut health programs. In the long term, the lack of reform continues to make it difficult to win the broad reforms needed to meet the health care needs of all Californians, and the ultimate goal of quality, affordable health care for all.

ELECTION ANALYSIS: 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.

This is not to say that a new effort at budget reform and accountability will be successful, but just to indicate that the results in early 2004 are not predictive: Prop 56 was a victim of uniquely bad timing.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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