Wednesday, July 28, 2010

208 / Two Propositions

In connection with the General Election to be held on November 2nd of this year, California voters will be asked to make decisions on Proposition 25 and Proposition 26. These two measures raise a fundamental question about what "democracy" means in the State of California.

Many people think that "democracy" is the same thing as "majority rule." In California, however, any piece of legislation that requires the expenditure of money, and that pretty much means any piece of legislation that is significant, must be passed by a 2/3 vote.

The California requirement for a 2/3 vote for money bills does not establish minority "rule," since a minority cannot pass anything. It does, however, eliminate "majority rule." Whether this is a good thing, vis a vis the state budget, is going to be decided by the people's vote on Proposition 25. Proposition 25 would not eliminate the 2/3 vote requirement for bills that "raise taxes," but it would eliminate the need for a 2/3 vote (and restore a majority vote requirement) for the state budget bill, which appropriates and expends money. Again, under existing law, any bill that spends money, including the budget bill, requires a 2/3 or supermajority vote.

Proposition 26 would take the state in the absolute opposite direction. Currently, the State Constitution allows certain revenue raising measures to be approved by a majority vote of the voters themselves. Proposition 26 would eliminate this possibility, as an attempt to close what some see as the last "loophole" in the state's basic commitment to a system of government in which a minority can prevent the majority from passing any law that either raises or spends money.

To summarize, the November 2nd election will let Californians decide if they think that "majority rule" is a necessary ingredient for "democracy."

Some, and I count myself among them, believe that it is, and that California's current status as a "failed state" comes largely from its unwillingness to let the majority decide what the government should do. What happens if the government can't act to do what the majority of the people want? How legitimate is government then? The current crisis in California government demonstrates the consequences of letting a minority veto what the majority wants to do. The government can't address the fiscal and other problems of the state, and the people lose all respect for governmental institutions and the processes of government itself.

Will the state start turning in a different direction in November, with respect to what "democracy" means in California?


If you think that would be a good idea, it's a "Yes" vote on Proposition 25. And a "No" vote on Proposition 26.

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