Proposition 25: the ultimate half-measure

November’s ballot is dominated by celebrity propositions. Whether it’s Proposition 19, which legalizes marijuana in a limited fashion and yet still attracts massive support and opposition, or Proposition 23, which suspends one of California’s recent environmental keystones, these are the type of measures that make for great news headlines, no matter the result.  Moreover, the intended effects of these propositions are almost completely obvious, with correspondingly little explanation required. Voters can pigeonhole themselves comfortably into one side, whether it’s the anti-marijuana or pro-environment side, with little to no information about the bill’s actual effects. 

Not so with another Proposition which, while it may be technical, is no less radical than the aforementioned. I refer to the almost entirely unnoticed Proposition 25. This measure, which takes as its project the overturning of one of California’s most significant political institutions – the 2/3rds vote requirement to pass a budget – has managed to slip by on the radar, with voters largely ignoring it, and thus ignoring relevant information about it for almost the entire election. 

Yet arguably, this measure is more urgent than any of its peers. While Proposition 19 may fulfill the goals of drug legalization advocates and alter California’s business climate, for instance, it would have a comparatively small effect on California’s political landscape, and certainly, were Proposition 19 not on the ballot, marijuana would not be one of the key concerns of California’s electorate.

Proposition 23 has a better case to make, given the potential for economic stagnation following environmental legislation, but even that case pales in comparison to Proposition 25. The reason is that, if California’s failure to pass a budget could be boiled down to a single causal factor (the dangers of oversimplification) notwithstanding, that factor would be the inability to pass that budget via simple majority. Everyone from moderate Republicans to liberal Democrats have bargained, begged, pleaded and screamed for one budget or another, only to see it fall just short of the required mark. Proposition 25 would (ostensibly) change all that. 

Or would it? 

Actually, despite trying to deal radically with a dangerous problem, Proposition 25 is one thing and one thing only: a half-measure. While the Proposition’s backers can certainly bring themselves to lift the requirement that budgets be passed with a simple majority, they can’t quite muster the political will to lift an arguably more significant (and more crucial) requirement: that tax increases be passed by a 2/3 vote. 

I say this not to imply that this requirement should be lifted. In this time of dire economic straits, the last thing one of the most highly taxed states in the union needs is more taxes. However, what Proposition 25 would actually accomplish if passed might be no less frightening to a different sect of Californians – that is, it would enable politicians to pass only budgets with spending cuts included, given that spending cuts are the only method available to balance the budget in the absence of tax increases. These spending cuts could be anything from Chris Christie-esque cuts to education, to Meg Whitman-esque attacks on California’s nurses’ union, to welfare benefit slicing, all of which are arguably needed, but politically very unpalatable to a state dominated by left-leaning politics. 

Ironically, the opponents of Proposition 25 do not raise this point, but instead argue that its effect would be to allow tax increases, a contention which the proposition’s language simply does not bear out. As such, this November, many left-leaning Californians may find themselves tricked into voting for something whose only effect could be to cut their favored programs.