Beware Prop. 31: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

With all of the focus on the November ballot initiatives to raise taxes, Proposition 31 seems to have quietly avoided heavy scrutiny in the main stream media thus far. But this initiative is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be much-needed reform.

There is growing confusion about ballot title and summaries on California’s ballot initiatives. It’s almost impossible to know how to vote on something. A “no” vote may mean “yes,” and visa versa, given the way the California Attorney General’s office plays fast and loose with writing the titles and summaries of ballot measures.

This is the case with Proposition 31 – what’s up is down, and what appears to be reform, is not. Equally disturbing is how so many of the state’s newspapers are jumping on board this phony “reform” measure. Even the California Republican Party officially endorsed Prop. 31.

However, most voters have grown suspicious  of anything claiming to offer “good government”  reforms.

Proposition 31

Proposition 31 would establish a two-year state budget, instead of the current annual budget cycle. It would prohibit the Legislature from creating expenditures of more than $25 million without first providing a source of the funding.

Prop. 31 would allow the governor to unilaterally make budget cuts if the Legislature fails to make necessary cuts, and would require the establishment of performance goals for budget items, as well as performance reviews of all state programs.

Prop. 31 would require the publication of all bills at least three days prior to a vote by the Legislature. It would give counties the power to alter state statutes or regulations related to spending unless the state Legislature or a state agency vetoed those changes within 60 days.

This “budget reform” initiative is intended to bring more transparency to the budgeting process, according to proponents.

So far, this sounds pretty good, right?

Dig a little deeper; the list of backers of Prop. 31 should raise everyone’s hackles.

Prop. 31 is both a new law and state constitutional amendment. It is sponsored by California Forward, a political action group which claims that it wants to “transform our state government through citizen-driven solutions to provide better representation, smarter budgeting and fiscal management, and high quality public services so all Californians have the opportunity to be safe, healthy and prosperous in the global economy.”

California Forward was created by “California Common Cause, the Center for Governmental Studies, the New California Network and the Commonwealth Club of California’s Voices of Reform Project at the urging of the California Endowment, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and The David and Lucile Packard Foundation,” according to Ballotpedia.

Nicolas Berggruen, a European billionaire born and raised in Paris, France, has provided more than $1.5 million to the Prop. 31 Campaign. Interestingly, Berggruen is registered as a Democrat in Florida, and has provided the funding behind the Think Long Committee for California. He is also the founder and president of Berggruen Holdings and the president and chairman of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute.

Merger of wealth and politics

Earlier this year, California Forward and the Think Long Committee for California merged to form the ultimate elite group of former politicians and impertinent billionaires.

“The lineup of the two groups is a who’s-who of Capitol politicians who apparently just didn’t get enough of the place while in power: Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown; recalled Gov. Gray Davis and his replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sunne Wright McPeak, former Contra Costa supervisor and former secretary of the California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency; another former Assembly Speaker, Fred Keeley;  former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson; and another former assembly speaker, Bob Hertzberg,” I wrote in Bored Billionaire Groups Merge.

“These politicians joined forces with billionaire financier Nicolas Berggruen; union boss Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO; and ueber-wealthy foundations such as the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.”

As the founder of the Council for the Future of Europe, Berggruen supports “fiscal federalism and coordinated economic policy” to rescue the European Union from its debts–just the policy needed to fix California’s budget ills.

Donor Amount
Nicolas Berggruen $1,557,587
California Forward $1,260,967
Lenny Mendonca $150,000
Barclay Simpson $100,000
Thomas McKernan, Jr. $100,000
Michael Marston $90,000
Julie Packard $50,000
Nancy Burnett $50,000
David Spencer $50,000
Peter Weber $50,000

Real reform

“California needs a top- to-bottom overhaul that connects political decision-making to its unique social and economic reality and creates cause-and-effect accountability for those we elect to office,” said Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters. “Proposition 31 is akin to giving someone with a flesh-eating infection an aspirin to relieve the pain momentarily when the patient truly needs radical surgery or powerful drugs to stop the infection.”

While the California Republican Party has endorsed Prop. 31, many Republicans are not supportive.

The East Bay Tea Party warns that Prop. 31 ”amends the California Constitution and creates a ‘Super’ Council that will oversee all levels of government. Corruption cannot be fixed by adding a new layer of bureaucrats.”

And, it is important to notice that California Forward rather awkwardly avoided pointing out in its official ballot argument in favor of it that Prop. 31 will socialize state revenue sharing. Tax sharing governments are not accountable to the taxpayers of jurisdiction with which they share taxes.

Tax sharing is a banal sounding term, but actually means central government-collected, locally-shared taxes, and is nothing more than Senior English Semantics, covering for “redistribution.”

My CalWatchDog.com colleague Wayne Lusvardi warned of this in “Proposition 31 would regionalize state revenue sharing“: ”Despite regionalization failing miserably in the European Union, California is proposing to adopt it as a tax-sharing policy for distributing state funds to local governments if voters approve Proposition 31 on the November ballot.”

Others warn that Prop. 31 adopts parts of the United Nation’s Agenda 21.

“It calls for the institutionalization of the UN Agenda 21 ’3 E’s’:

  • Economy: Private/Public Partnerships and Project Labor Agreements will replace free markets;
  • Equity: Social and Environmental Justice and the redistribution of wealth will be mandatory instead of Equal Justice;
  • Environment: Climate Change, Species, Habitat and false science will be used as an excuse to regulate and control the citizens of California,” explained the Halfway to Concord blog.

“The ‘Super’ Council will measure the ‘Performance and Accountability’ of every government entity against the UN Agenda 21 3 E’s. The Council will have the ultimate power to make or stop a local jurisdiction from doing anything based on this proposition.”

Opposition to Prop. 31

Ballotpedia reports that the opponents to Prop. 31 are mostly labor unions, along with the California Democratic Party. But their opposition isn’t quite the same as the Tea Party’s.

The arguments against Proposition 31 in the state’s official voter guide were submitted by:

  • Sarah Rose, the chief executive officer of the California League of Conservation Voters.
  • Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers.
  • Ron Cottingham, the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California.
  • Anthony Wright,  the executive director of Health Access California.
  • Lacy Barnes, the senior vice-president of the California Federation of Teachers.
  • Lenny Goldberg, the executive director of the California Tax Reform Association.

Other opponents include the California Democratic Party, and:

Donor Amount
Working Families Issues Committee (AFL-CIO) $80,000
Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs $50,000
AFSCME $8,600

The Public Policy Institute of California just published a statewide survey that found when voters read the ballot title and label of Prop. 31, “25 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes, 42 percent would vote no, and 32 percent are undecided.”

PPIC found, “The proposition does not have majority support in any party, demographic, or regional group. Many likely voters across groups do not know how they will vote on Proposition 31. Twenty-nine percent of likely voters say the outcome is very important to them.”

There are many things about Prop. 31 to dislike, including the many exemptions. Prop. 31 exempts the state’s growing and unchecked bond debt, and the exponential growth of existing state programs.

As Prop. 31 opponent Health Access pointed out, “Prop 31 would enshrine all of its 8,000+ words (longer than the U.S. Constitution) into the California Constitution — unable to be changed without another vote of the people. Even the unobjectionable parts of Prop 31 (a two year budget cycle, for example) shouldn’t be in the Constitution, written in stone for a generation or more.”

(Katy Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist, and CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Originally posted on CalWatchdog.)