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Two-Thirds Budget Vote Requirement Is Not the Problem

Roger Niello (R-5) is Assembly member for California’s 5th District, which includes Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Folsom, Granite Bay, Sacramento, Arden Arcade, Fair Oaks, Natomas, North Highlands and Orangevale. He is vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The constitutional requirement that the state budget be approved by two-thirds of legislators protects Californians from tyranny of the majority. It ensures that all viewpoints are heard and considered.

Many of my Democratic colleagues have suggested scrapping this important protection, which dates back to 1933. But Californians have spoken clearly on this issue as recently as four years ago, when voters told both parties to work together to solve our budget problems and denied a reduction of the current two-thirds requirement that was contained in Proposition 56 of 2004. In fact, nearly 66 percent of the voters (two-thirds, ironically) voted against Prop. 56.

Democrats often cite the fact that California is one of only three states to require a two-thirds vote approval on the budget, and they blame the two-thirds requirement for our late budgets. But a look at some experiences in other states suggests that there isn’t a relationship between the two-thirds vote requirement and the late budgets. Pennsylvania, a majority-vote budget state, has not passed a budget on time in six years, and New York has been late 22 of the past 24 years. California actually has a better record.

The reality is that the majority would simply like to have completely unchecked budgeting authority --- authority that would lead to overspending and then higher taxes later to finance that spending. We now know that if the simple majority had gotten its way last year, this year’s deficit would have been even billions higher and meant potentially larger budget cuts.

Passing the budget late is a disservice to California --- but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s our budget process that should be reformed, not the two-thirds vote requirement.

The supermajority vote requirement is nothing new. Everyone knows that at the end of the day, Republican budget values will have to be considered. Yet, throughout the process of putting together the budget during the subcommittees and Budget Conference Committee, these Republican values are ignored. In fact, with the current process, it’s a wonder we’ve ever had a budget on time.

Budget committee memberships need equal representation so that Republican budget values can be heard earlier in the process and a budget can be put together that, in the end, will have Republican support.

Let’s respect the will of the voters, cut out the theatrics and have an honest discussion about our budget, knowing the rules by which we must play.