Proposition 22 is another measure that, however appealing its motivation, will constrain the give-and-take that makes budgets work. In the name of protecting local government services, it enacts a new prohibition that says the state can't delay or take local funds that belong to local agencies, even when the state faces an emergency. Ever. It's guaranteed to make budget deficits bigger and add to Sacramento's dysfunction.
But even Proposition 22 isn't as straightforwardly dysfunctional as Proposition 26, which pledges to add another two-thirds supermajority requirement (this one for votes on fees) to a state system that already demands two-thirds votes for passing budgets, raising taxes and changing school funding. Such supermajorities have been disastrous for California, creating gridlock, subverting the will of the majority and obscuring who is responsible for bad budgets.
Symptom 4. California is so broken that even good piecemeal reforms can make things worse.
Proposition 25 is an honorable effort to attack this two-thirds problem by replacing the supermajority for passing budgets with a majority vote requirement. This is the right thing to do, but, because of the nature of the system, it's likely to make budgeting worse.
That's because Proposition 25 leaves in place all the other supermajorities and budgetary whips and chains that cause debt and delay in governance. Minority Republicans will retain the overall leverage that these two-thirds requirements give them. And Proposition 25 may deepen budget deficits by making it easier for Democrats to pass the spending they want (since budgets will be only a majority vote) while permitting Republicans to continue to block revenue increases needed to pay for the spending.
Unintentionally, Proposition 25 and the eight other measures make the argument that California has no choice but to pursue comprehensive reforms. That means building an entirely new election system instead of merely changing the people who are in charge of drawing the lines. That means removing all the supermajorities and spending mandates and limits from the legislative system, not just one or two. That means adopting an entirely new initiative process that makes it harder to add to the state Constitution and easier to amend the laws that voters enact.
Initiatives, which must adhere to single subjects, are antithetical to broad reform. They tend to reinforce the status quo by adding one more distortion, or one more rule to the existing system. When you vote yes for any of them in such a context, you're voting not for change but for more of the same.
Joe Mathews is a fellow of the New America Foundation and the coauthor of "California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It."