Prop 25 – Change Vote Required to Pass Budgets

(Image from venturacountystar.com)

Proposition 25 – Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from two-thirds to a simple majority. Retains two-thirds vote requirement for taxes.

Measure Details:

  • Changes the number of votes required to pass the budget and budget-related legislation from 2/3 to a simple majority.
  • Suspends legislators’ pay if they have not submitted a budget to the Governor by June 15 (as constitutionally mandated). Suspension is lifted when a budget is presented to the Governor.
  • States that it is not intended to change the 2/3rds majority currently required to increase state tax revenues (i.e. raise taxes).

Arguments For:

  • The California legislature has only met the June 15th deadline for submission of a budget to the Governor five times since 1980 (according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office).
  • Late budgets force the state to issue IOUs on which they must pay interest, costing the state money that could have gone to other (better) uses.

Arguments Against:

  • Prop 25 will make it possible for the legislature to pass new taxes with a majority rather than the 2/3rds requirement established by Prop 13.
  • Prop 25 will make it easier for legislators to increase their own salaries and allocate wasteful spending.

My Take:

The arguments against Prop 25 just don’t make sense to me. First, opponents say that Prop 25 will erode the power of Proposition 13, passed in 1978, which established a 2/3rds requirement for all measures that would increase the tax rate or tax revenue collected. In the language of Proposition 25 (the text to all propositions can be found here), the only mention of Proposition 13 reads:

This measure will not change Proposition 13’s property tax limitations in any way. This measure will not change the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.

I can’t really see why this language would not apply if Prop 25 is passed, as opponents claim.

More generally though, I think that this Proposition would only really change the budget process in those instances where both the Legislature and the Governor’s office are controlled by the same party. The bill does not eliminate the ability of the Governor to veto the bill, nor does it eliminate the ability of the Legislature to override a veto with that 2/3rds majority. So, in cases when opposing parties control the Legislative and Executive branches, the Governor can force a 2/3rds majority should the Legislature give him a bill with which he doesn’t agree.

If the Executive and Legislative branches are both controlled by the same party, then they will be able to pass a budget with the slimmest majority, but this is not a problem in my eyes. This is why we have elections in which the person with the most votes win (2000 Presidential election excluded). We don’t require candidates to get 2/3rds of the vote, because if that were the case we would never actually finish an election. I believe that the same should be true for establishing policy, because requiring these supermajorities (as we’ve seen with the last California budget and nearly all federal legislation this year) allows the minority to thwart the will of the majority. I don’t believe in unfettered power for the majority, but (a) this measure only applies to the budget and (b) that’s why we have periodic elections, as a check on the will of the Legislative majority.

To me, “requiring a 2/3rds majority” is not something that ensures better governance, it is something that more often leads to stalled governance, and subsequent deal making that can weaken legislation in order to mollify the minority. With a simple majority required to pass legislation, budgets can get passed, and if the people of California don’t like them, they can express their displeasure at the ballot box next time around.

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