What word best describes California's state government?
How about broken?
We suspect most people share that assessment. In the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll, 68 percent of likely voters disapproved of the Legislature's performance. That's an improvement over a record 86 percent disapproval rating two years ago, but it's nothing to brag about. And it doesn't reflect optimism for the future: Two-thirds said the state is headed in the wrong direction.
A dysfunctional Legislature isn't solely responsible for Californians' bleak outlook, but a more effective government would help restore some of the Golden State's lost luster.
No single ballot measure is going to fix all of the problems plaguing state government. Heck, there isn't anything approaching a consensus on what all of those problems are. But some of them would be alleviated if voters approve Proposition 31 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Proposition 31 would:
Require legislators to identify a source of funding — or corresponding spending cuts — to pay for any new program costing more than $25 million.
Establish a two-year budget cycle to encourage more long-term planning and discourage the use of accounting gimmicks to mask deficits.
Require performance goals in state and local budgets and performance evaluations for all state programs.
Permit the governor to unilaterally cut spending if legislators don't act within 45 days after the declaration of a fiscal emergency.
Prohibit the Legislature from acting on bills that haven't been available to the public for at least three days. (There's an exception for disaster-related legislation.)
Gives cities and counties greater flexibility in how they manage state-funded programs and apportion property tax revenue.
These modest reforms emerged from bipartisan efforts to make state government more efficient, more transparent and, ultimately, more effective.
Proposition 31 isn't a panacea. It doesn't address California's outdated tax code or the political sclerosis of the major parties. But it builds on the foundation of voter-approved reforms, including open primaries, independent reapportionment and allowing approval of the state budget by a simple majority instead of two-thirds.
Adding a pay-go rule would force legislators to weigh the costs before creating new programs. We'd like to see the same rule apply for ballot initiatives. The threat of unilateral action by the governor may spur legislators to act on deficits, and providing adequate time for the public to review bills will reduce special-interest influence and last-minute shenanigans in the Legislature.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who returned to office after 28 years, is now sifting through scores of bills passed in the final month of the legislative session. He says he would like to see Sacramento focus less on writing new laws and more on making "some of this stuff work."
As he told the Los Angeles Times: "You've got to do fewer things better."
We think Brown is right, and we think Proposition 31 is a small step in that direction. The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote on Proposition 31.