This article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 21, printed September 2005.
Governor Schwarzenegger calls this measure a "spending cap." He says that if the state runs out of money, it will cut all programs in an equal and fair way. This is a lie.
This measure gives the governor dictatorial power to cut the budget any way he wants to. It also reduces the amount of money the state is required to spend on public schools, including community colleges.
The state constitution gives the legislature (our elected representatives in the assembly and state senate) the power to decide how state money is spent. They are supposed to pass the budget by June 15 each year and make necessary changes in the middle of the fiscal year.
The governor can either sign or veto the budget. He can also reduce some programs before signing (the "line item veto"), but not after. He can declare an emergency mid-year, but the legislature has to change the budget.
Proposition 76 would let the governor call a fiscal emergency as many as four times a year if there is 1.5% less money than the state had expected. (That is, if there is only $98.50 for every $100.) Then if the legislature does not agree on a solution in 45 days, the governor can cut whatever he wants. The governor also gets this power if the original budget is late.
The governor would be able to cut spending on social programs, state employee pay and benefits, and anything else he wants without a vote of the legislature.
The 2/3 Catch
The problem is that in California the legislature needs 2/3 of the members to agree to pass or change a budget. It takes a long time for that many people to come to an agreement, even if they all honestly want to. Most other states require only a simple majority (50% plus one). Since the budget is almost always late, the governor will get to spend our tax money.
Some people say we have to keep the 2/3 requirement for spending state money so that one party cannot make such important decisions alone. But they are willing to give all the power to one person.
We don't need a dictator
The ancient Greeks and Romans had a special procedure for giving emergency powers to one man. They called it a "dictatorship," and they only used it in times of war or national crisis. The dictator's powers were limited to one year.
It seems that we're always in a crisis these days, and our so-called "conservatives" always want to give extra "emergency powers" to a president, a governor, a mayor or a school superintendent. Maybe it's time to get rid of a social system that needs dictators.