Leave it to the governor and state legislators to take a good idea and screw it up. That's what happened with the plan for a rainy-day fund on the November ballot.
Proposition 44 would impose desperately needed fiscal discipline on lawmakers, and that deserves voter support. The unacceptable additions are contained in separate legislation that lawmakers can -- and absolutely must -- rescind this fall.
If this measure has a feeling of déjà vu, it's understandable. Ten years ago, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger convinced voters to approve $15 billion of one-time borrowing in exchange for a promised reserve account.
But the requirement to fund that account can be suspended by the governor and consequently has been largely ignored. As a result, there is no rainy day fund today, although one contribution will be made in September.
Gov. Jerry Brown understands that savings can protect against oscillating state tax revenues and wants a more meaningful reserve fund.
Prop. 44 would amend the California Constitution to require the state use at least 0.75 percent of general fund revenues to pay down debt and set aside an equal amount in a reserve account.
The reserves could grow to 10 percent of the general fund, or $11 billion under the current budget. The governor could only draw on the reserves with legislative approval and only in a "budget emergency," either because of a natural disaster or to keep spending at the highest level of the past three years. We wish that last exception was more restrictive, but it's not a deal killer.
When state tax revenues from capital gains are higher than average and certain complex school funding criteria are met, additional money would go into a new state reserve for schools, although that's not likely to kick in for several years.
Now for the screw-up:
Tacked onto the proposition is separate legislation that would cap how much local school districts could keep in their own reserves once money is put into the new state schools reserve. It was slipped into this year's budget deal, with no real public vetting, as a political payoff to labor unions that whine about districts supposedly hoarding money they could use for raises. The bill would limit most districts to reserves of 6 percent of their general funds, which would cover only about two weeks' payroll. It's ridiculous. Standard & Poor's already has warned of credit downgrades for districts if the caps kick in.
The only reason California needs a rainy-day fund is that state lawmakers don't responsibly budget on their own. They should butt out of local schools' budgeting. It's insane to couple a requirement for fiscal prudence on the state level with a prohibition against it for school districts.