We can all agree that major reforms to our state budget process are needed; however, the way Proposition 31 is written would cause far too many severe and unintended consequences, particularly for California's at-risk populations.
The passage of Proposition 31 would allow for local governments to implement programs as they see fit, without following state standards already in place. Proposition 31 would end up jeopardizing funding for services intended to assist California families being crushed by the economic crisis.
Programs like CalWORKS, that give minimal cash aid and services to needy California families, could end up on the chopping block even further than already cut.
Proposition 31 will enable the creation of a patchwork of services that could change depending on which city or county you're in. For example, if one county decides to spend all its funds on fatherhood programs, instead of giving out cash assistance and welfare to work services, families would then face a difficult choice on where they should live and if they should sacrifice their low wage positions.
This would end up costing the state, and has unintended consequences. If a family had no means to relocate, they would be denied their means of sustenance during their time of utmost need.
Proposition 31 proposes a draconian state-spending cap, along with pay-as-you-go budgeting. They will result in drastic impacts for all of us. The pay-as-you-go provision means we cannot meet the future needs of our state without gutting existing programs. The alternative is to raise revenue, which is a two-thirds vote. California needs more majority rule not more minority rule. Proposition 31 hands even more power to a small group of politicians who consistently oppose any and all new solutions.
Additionally, spending caps will hinder state opportunities to receive federal funding. One example is of this is the CHIP/Healthy Families program. A decade ago, California would have missed out on covering close to a million children if spending caps had been in place. Programs like these often receive matching funds, or even a 2-1 match, if the state invests in them.
New rules imposed on our governmental process will just lead to more inflexibility, along with unforeseen consequences.
Proposition 31 adds another limitation on the Legislature's ability to manage the state finances on top of the three budget caps already in law. Rather than make state government more transparent, Proposition 31 makes California less transparent.
Proposition 31 is unnecessary, will further complicate our government, and puts at-risk populations in harm's way.
Mike Herald is the public benefits advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty and a founding member of the Health and Human Services Network of California. He lives in Sacramento.