Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,
So there’s been some talk this week about the need for a Constitutional Convention. What do you think?
Corrina in Covina

Hey Corrina,
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a political week quite like this one. Sure, the Legislature passed a budget that looked like it would have been at home in the Aegean Stables. That’s not surprising. But the fact that such a deal could be cut without the governor, and that the governor is actually going to veto the thing, changes the entire nature of the budget game.

If you’ve got a governor who can’t deliver any Republican votes, isn’t involved in crafting the deal and isn’t going to sign the deal anyways, then why bother including him in the conversation at all?

It’s all emblematic of just how broken this place can be – or at least just how bad our budget picture is. Remember, these things are never discussed when the state is awash in revenues. We seem perfectly capable of handling the good times. It’s the bad times we have a hard time with. (Sound like anyone’s second marriage?)

But as long as we’re pointing fingers, how about a little mea culpa from the governor? If we hadn’t cut that pesky car tax, our budget hole would be fraction of what it is now. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

Talk of a Constitutional convention bubbles up from time to time, but things now are just about bad enough to make something that drastic actually plausible. California budgeters have used all the discipline of a sub-prime mortgage lender to keep postponing having to say anything mean or nasty like “no” or “tax increase” in the belief that we, like children, will throw some kind of electoral temper tantrum.

Of course, we would, but you’d hope that politicians would have the discipline to tell us the bad news anyway. We are the children, and probably deserve to be treated as such. That’s what democracy is all about, right? But it’s not working out that way.

The truth is, there is a lack of political parenting in Sacramento, and things are exactly backward. Voters have played the role of dominatrix to the Legislature’s submissives. Through all these budget formulas and so called reforms, lawmakers have their hands tied tighter than  Larry Craig in one of his Midwestern bathroom fantasies – allegedly.

So, perhaps it is time to throw the whole thing away and start over. Heck, our constitution already reads more like the tax code than a founding document of fundamental rights and political principles.

Barring a Constitutional Convention, how about starting with a hostage exchange. We’ll exchange Proposition 13 for Proposition 98 – straight up. Heck, maybe we’ll even throw in a Proposition to be named later – Prop. 1A or Prop. 42. If we can’t undo the whole thing, maybe we can start by getting rid of the things that lock up the biggest pieces of the budget pie, and the most severe restrictions on raising revenues.

The two-thirds vote requirement for a budget has proven itself to be outdated. Of course, this might have to be traded for some kind of de facto spending cap, but it’s something the people of California should be ready to have an honest conversation about.

If the real estate market’s woes continue, and the housing boom really is over in California, Prop. 13 won’t matter much anyway. And since nobody can afford to have kids anymore, we may not need a first-rate public school system, right?

Junking the Constitution and starting from scratch would touch off the largest special interest fight in human history. But it’s hard to imagine the end result would be a heck of a lot worse than what we’ve already got.


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