For over two months a small well disciplined cadre was able to hold off a howling army of eager spenders in the State Capitol. While Senate Republicans may not go down in history along side the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae by holding out for a better deal on the state budget they achieved more than expected for California taxpayers. Because of their courage the budget is a lot closer to being in balance and the $40 billion in state infrastructure bonds passed by voters last November will be spent more efficiently.
This victory for taxpayers was made possible by the constitutional requirement that a budget receive a two-thirds vote of each house for approval a mandate that has been in effect for more than 70 years. (If you thought this vote requirement was the result of Proposition 13 sorry but that is just another urban myth.)
Now that we have a state budget that meets the sanity test those lawmakers who want to spend regardless of the cost to future taxpayers want to change the rules. The halls of the Capitol are atwitter with conversations about establishing a new budget approval process that jettisons the two-thirds vote. Senate President Don Perata has already written a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger asking that a budget revision panel be put together. It appears lawmakers have forgotten that when voters were given the opportunity to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement less than four years ago with Proposition 56 it was soundly rejected.
However even some prominent fiscal conservatives have suggested that a majority vote should be sufficient. If the majority big spenders approve a budget that leads to disaster then "they own it" the reasoning goes. This they continue will lead to their dismissal by the voters in the next election cycle.
This may sound good in theory but let’s look at how such a system would work in real life. Suppose you and three friends Dick Don and Fabian go to a party. (Any similarities between Dick Don and Fabian and actual persons is purely coincidental). You and Dick behave responsibly while Fabian and Don hoist a few and then a few more. After becoming extremely inebriated Don dangling the car keys from his hand says it’s time to go. You and Dick argue that Don should not be driving but Fabian chimes in "He’s fine. Besides half of us say it’s okay and we will take responsibility."
Now if you and Dick go along with this and end up in the hospital no amount of Fabian’s and Don’s posturing about willingness to "take responsibility" will make your injuries heal any quicker. During your recuperation you will have time to contemplate how you should have held out for calling a cab rather than follow two fools to disaster.
And that of course is the point of the two-thirds vote. It guarantees a broad-based consensus on budget decisions that will have profound impact on taxpayers and service recipients.
Given the opportunity some in the Legislature would spend much more than the revenue available. To them the end funding their programs or projects justify the means going massively into debt. They show no concern or understanding of the impact this can have on the state’s taxpayers credit rating or economy. In just a short time they can do incalculable damage.
As long as we continue to elect a majority of the Legislature who are intoxicated with spending we need the two-thirds vote to protect us from their irresponsible behavior.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.