If you live in California, like I do, then you're used to the state's annual budget battles, which inevitably result in political name-calling, overdue budgets and a general sense that one of the world's largest economies and the nation's most populous state is doomed.
Thanks to the Great Recession, this year's budget mess was particularly nasty, with state employees receiving IOUs instead of paychecks and the Governator waving giant knives around to get the people excited for massive cuts in social services and the closing of many of California's state parks.
Fortunately, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George revealed in a recent speech his ideas on what's dragging California's government down: the people of California. Well, more specifically, the chief justice blames the ballot initiative
process that allows the people of California to dictate how the
government operates directly, rather than solely through a system of
elected representatives. Through California's referendum system,
voters can tell the legislature how to spend money, throw up hurdles to
prevent tax increases and create substantive law on any subject, from
chicken coops to gay marriage.
Justice George sees ballot
initiatives as the albatross around the state's neck, and says that the
referendums have "rendered our state government dysfunctional."
In particular, he notes that special interests are often the major
forces behind the ballot initiatives, and they are allowed to pay
bounties to canvassers for each signature they obtain to have a ballot
measure placed on the ballot.
The timing of the chief
justice's comments is interesting: hundreds of people are currently
meeting in Sacramento, the state capital, to discuss constitutional
reform, including the possibility of changing the ballot initiative
Chief Justice George didn't rally behind the idea of a full-blown
constitutional convention to rewrite California's constitution, but he
did state plainly that some reform was needed:
At a minimum, . . . Californians may need to
consider some fundamental reform of the voter initiative process.
Otherwise, I am concerned, we shall continue on a course of
dysfunctional state government, characterized by a lack of
accountability on the part of our officeholders as well as the voting