Proposition 31 begins with a stupendous understatement: "California government has lost the confidence of its citizens and is not meeting the needs of Californians. Taxpayers are entitled to a higher return on their investment and the public deserves better results from government services."
It's difficult to find anyone to argue the point. Certainly, you won't find it here. These pages have been in that choir for so long that we have earned front-row pews.
The question is not whether California's government is a mess, that is a given; but rather whether passing Prop. 31 will do anything about that.
While it is far from perfect, we are convinced it will.
The proposition is the work product of the government reform group California Forward and as such is a bit lengthy and unnecessarily dense. But Prop. 31 is a classic case of not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
It offers some sane and long overdue reforms to the state budget process, it increases local government flexibility and it begins to establish much tighter fiscal oversight on state spending.
The truth is that in such matters almost anything is better than what we have.
Among its attributes, Prop. 31 requires creation of a two-year budget, which helps cut the accounting gimmicks used to pass faux balanced budgets. It will not eliminate them entirely, but a two-year budget is a step in the right direction.
Probably most important is that Prop. 31 will actually allow a glimmer of sunlight to penetrate the inky and arcane world of state budget creation. It does so by increasing public review and requiring more stringent public reporting requirements. It actually advances the radical notion that the public should have at least three days to review the final budget before it can be passed by the Legislature.
It also requires past performances and results of programs to be included in the budget, and it mandates performance reviews for all state government programs.
We will admit this is one of those we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it provisions, but the recent "discovery" of more than $50 million in the state Department of Parks and the state's inept wasting of $500 million creating a unified court case management system have become the poster children screaming for this kind of reform.
The critics of Prop. 31, which are primarily professional lobbying groups, argue that the proposition is awkwardly written and cumbersome. It is a fair point. It is far from a precision document.
But they take that argument to a silly extreme saying that Californians shouldn't pass it because it is likely to prompt litigation. What proposition doesn't? If that suddenly becomes our standard, then we must stop placing propositions on the ballot because nearly all of them must withstand legal challenges. We are confident this one will survive.
It is a simple choice, really. If you are happy state government operations, then you should vote no on Prop. 31. But if you feel, as we do, that it is in serious need of reform, we urge a yes vote on Prop. 31.