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Our View: Let's pressure the lawmakers, not the workers

What’s this, Arnold Schwarzenegger is again holding a knife to the throat of state employees? Ahh, it must be budget season.

The spectacle of California’s governor trying to force intransigent lawmakers into compromising on a now-overdue 2010-2011 budget by busting the personal budgets of state workers is one more reminder that things are broken in Sacramento.

As distractions go, this one’s a doozy. The governor orders drastic pay cuts for about 200,000 people, including those working at Pelican Bay State Prison, then sues the state controller for failing to carry out the order. The controller counter-sues.

Lost in the excitement of a new brawl is the fact that the state saves no money by cutting worker pay to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour — employees would eventually be reimbursed for their lost wages, although by then they may have forfeited their homes and cars.

It’s just one more gubernatorial gimmick to pressure lawmakers into passing a budget   — something they yet again failed to do by the constitutional deadline of June 15. We understand the governor’s frustration over what has become an annual legislative stalemate, but his minimum-wage ploy is destructive and ineffectual.

It won’t help for this round of Democrat vs. Republican dysfunction beneath the Capitol dome, but if citizens want a more reasonable approach to forcing the Legislature to do its budgeting job in the future, they should approve Proposition 25 in the Nov. 2 election.

At least then the knife would be at the throats of the legislators themselves.

More than a million voters signed petitions to get the measure on the ballot. If it passes, state legislators would permanently forfeit their own salaries and expense checks for every day that passes without an approved budget after the June 15 deadline.

Proposition 25 would also remove the requirement that budget bills receive the approval of at least two-thirds of the Legislature. On paper, that requirement encourages compromise through checks and balances. In reality, it results in gridlock, missed budget deadlines, the issuance of state IOUs, etc.

By making it possible to pass a budget bill with a simple majority of the Legislature, voters regain control of the process. They decide which political party is in charge, and if they don’t like the results, they elect someone else the next time around.

The measure does not represent a blank check for whatever party holds the majority, because the two-third’s requirement would remain for tax increases.

There are other budget-related measures on the Nov. 2 ballot, including Proposition 21 to increase vehicle license fees by $18 a year to fund state parks, Proposition 22 to stop the state from raiding local government funds, Proposition 24 to eliminate certain business tax breaks and Proposition 26 to require voter approval of all new taxes.

No matter what happens with those measures, voters would do well to pass Prop 25 and inject some sanity into Sacramento’s budgeting process. Let the majority rule, and if it does a poor job, elect a new majority.

 

 

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