Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ballot Initiatives, California Caution

We confess that ballot iniatives are enticing. If something is important, let the voters decide, right? Didn't we learn that in elementary school and our first civics classes?

In various forms, 24 states permit citizen ballot initiatives leading to referenda or amendments to state constitutions. You can see specifics at the Initiative and Referendum Institute.

At its worst, we can look at what this has meant in California. The short of it is that citizens first limited their property taxes and then mandated that 40% of the budget go to education. That kind of worked when the state had a $3 billion surplus and does not work at all now.

The governor and legislature, as well as various agencies and school districts try to figure out how to align such goals. It is much like the fantasy of Reaganomics, guns AND butter. We want more and we want it to cost less. It is a wonderful hope, but alas, this is not a Disney or Dreamworks production.

The desire is too often emotionally based.

This type of situation is where representative democracy is supposed to work for citizens. Interest groups, citizens alliances and so forth make their wants known – lower taxes, smaller classes and so forth. Then the lawmakers are supposed to hammer out the relief of what is possible. There will be fine-tuning and enabling legislation appears.

This takes more time than an initiative, but far less than trying to fix a crippled state budget after a series of incompatible and irrationally conflicting laws have been voted referendum.

This is part two of five. The next part is here. Part one is here.

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