Proposition 31, titled “The California Performance and Accountability Act,” seeks to make constitutional changes in the state budgetary process. Proponents claim the changes will make the state budget process more accountable to constituents and more efficient. The measure would also provide flexibility for local governments to modify how they implement state-funded programs and regulations.

A reliable bellwether in the history of California ballot propositions is the more complicated and confusing they are, the less likely they are to pass. Proposition 31 packs a number of not directly related proposals into the initiative’s language.

Referring to Proposition 31, California Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, noting 2 to 1 prospective voter opposition at the end of September, said voters tend to vote against measures they don’t understand.

The Sacramento Bee calls the initiative “well intentioned but flawed” and urges a “no” vote. The San Diego Union Tribune supports the measure; but its editorial board acknowledges the public many find the measure’s language so imprecise and loose that it may chill voter response.

Proposition 31 proposes the following:

  • Establishes a two-year legislative budget cycle and requires evaluation of programs to determine if they are working before approving future funding.
  • The measure requires the Legislature to identify where funding will come from (either from specified revenues or spending cuts) before creating new programs or expanding existing program that cost $25 million or more annually;
  • Requires bills be made public at least three days before the vote in the Legislature. Proponents of this provision believe it will prevent legislators from casting uninformed votes on bills rushed through the Legislature. It is designed to give legislators and the public time to review before legislative votes occur;
  • Authorizes the governor to make spending cuts in a budget if a fiscal emergency occurr and the Legislature refuse to act within 45 days. The governor could make enough cuts to balance the budget, but would not be able to cut programs required by the state constitution or federal law.
  • Authorizes local governments to work with the state on difficult-to-solve problems that might be better handled with more local input. For the purpose of providing better and more community-based local approaches to solving intractable problems, a local governmental body could, in concert with other local jurisdictions, develop Community Strategic Action Plans to tackle these problems.

The local jurisdictions could then receive relief from certain state regulatory requirements. About $200 million annually could be shifted to counties and local governments to implement their plans.

Editorial opponents generally see Proposition 31 as a Band-Aid approach to a budgetary process that requires major surgery. While lauding the drafters’ intentions, critics also cite the measure’s imprecise language as permitting scenarios that its authors may not have intended or anticipated.

Critics believe the flexibility given local governments to change state mandates could result in a hodgepodge of regulations throughout the state.

thers challenge the provision to cap new or expanding programs, without funding sources, to $25 million or more per year without similarly restricting future voter approved ballot initiatives. Consequently, opponents argue out-of-control spending initiatives could pass, further hampering and complicating the budgetary process.

Union and environmental critics are most disturbed by the measure’s provision permitting county or local governments to alter implementation of state statutes or regulations that are funded in part or in full by the state. Only a legislative veto within 60 days of their local initiation could prevent the local changes.

Opponents cite scenarios in which cities, counties and their school partners could set their own eligibility requirements for Medi-Cal or other statewide programs, creating a potentially conflicting patchwork of regulations governing basic state services. Critics also predict the measure could allow local governments, without a vote, to alter state public health, safety, water and air quality standards. They could conceivably set their own, and by so doing put in place a crazy quilt of contradictory health and safety regulations.

Opponents also object to granting the governor unlimited power to change the budget during a state fiscal emergency. They argure the governor could cut or eliminate virtually any program, including health care, K-12 and public university funding unless overridden by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature.

Ballot opposition signatories include the CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, president of the California Federation of Teachers, president of the California Peace Officers Research Association, the senior vice president of the California Federation of Teachers and the executive director of the California Tax Reform Association. The California Democratic Party also opposes the measure.

Supporters include California Forward and the California Republican Party. Supporters note positive and necessary changes proposed by the initiative:

  • Require performance goals of all state and local budgets and require performance reviews of all state programs;
  • Provide needed local government flexibility to modify state requirements that affect them and propose more efficient and cost-effective ways to deal with programs and problems affected by state regulations;
  • Force state politicians to live within demonstrated available means;
  • And finally, proponents note the measure does not raise taxes or increase costs to taxpayers. Instead it makes it clear that laws should be implemented with existing resources only.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office notes that many of the provision’s fiscal consequences cannot be predicted but for those that can, such as the two-year budget cycle and oversight process, the LAO predicts implementation costs, both to the state and local governments, are “potentially millions to tens of millions of dollars annually, moderating over time,” while its effects, positive or negative, “cannot be predicted.”