Who Do You Trust: The Politicians or the People?

Democrats in the Legislature are pushing another power grab and, if they win, California voters lose.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, introduced by Assembly Democrats Mike Gatto and Mike Feuer, would radically enhance the power of the Legislature and two unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats while severely limiting the People’s right to put initiatives on the ballot.

ACA 6 would prohibit any initiative from even being voted on if, in the opinion of either the Legislative Analyst or the Director of Finance, the measure did not “pay for itself.” No exceptions. And if the voters at a future date tried to repeal ACA 6 outright, these same two unelected bureaucrats could determine that such a measure itself ultimately would have a “cost” to government in excess of $5 million and, as such, could simply order that the measure not be placed on the ballot. Under 100-year-old constitutional law in California, only the courts have had the power to order something off the ballot.

It is amazing the lengths that Capitol insiders will go to keep those pesky voters at bay. Backers of ACA 6 are claiming that all it is intend to do is make certain programs are paid for. But let’s see how it applies in the real world.

If ACA 6 were the law in 1978, Proposition 13 could have never been placed before the voters for their approval. Banned. Prohibited. The voters would not have been allowed to decide.

That’s worth repeating: ACA 6 would have allowed Jerry Brown’s Director of Finance (he was Governor then and, lest you forget, he opposed Proposition 13 until he was for it the day AFTER the election) to personally rule that Proposition 13 could not be placed on the June 1978 ballot. No appeal. No alternative. Thus, no cap on property tax rates and no 2/3rds vote for the Legislature to increase taxes . . . for the last 33 years. It’s hard to imagine a bigger nightmare for California taxpayers, but that’s what ACA 6 would have done then, and seeks to do today.

Another popular measure, the “Three Strikes” initiative qualified by Mike Reynolds in the aftermath of his daughter’s horrific murder, would have been barred from the ballot under ACA 6. The same with “Jessica’s Law,” the “Speedy Trials Initiative” (Prop 115) or the “Juvenile Justice Initiative” (Prop 21). Any public safety initiative that does not “pay for itself” would be prohibited by ACA 6 from going before the voters, no matter how vital to protect Californians from dangerous criminals.

Restrictions on the People’s right to the initiative could not come at a worse time. Although the expiration of $50 billion worth of tax increases is good news for taxpayers (thanks, of course, to Prop 13’s two-thirds vote requirement), desperately needed reforms such as a hard spending limit, pension reform and regulatory relief have virtually no chance of passage in the California Legislature. If ACA 6 becomes law, Sacramento special interests will have a complete monopoly on the political process.

ACA 6 is not reform. It is a poorly disguised power grab by Sacramento politicians.

Given the virulent anti-populist nature of ACA 6, it’s no surprise that if it becomes law, the Legislature will be exempt from the rules it would impose on regular folks. ACA 6 would do nothing to require that measures placed on the ballot by lawmakers themselves define a funding source. In addition, it would allow both the Legislature and interest groups to continue to increase taxpayer debt, because all bonds are exempt from its provisions.

And that’s the real irony. Although the vast majority of California voters support the initiative process, the Legislature’s own approval rating hovers at an abysmal 14%. If legislators want real reform, perhaps they should start by looking in the mirror. In the meantime, they should leave the initiative process alone.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California's largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers' rights.