It’s the Legislature, Stupid: Report Shows Initiatives Effectively Control Only 4% of California’s Budget
Just last week syndicated columnist George Will conjectured that “as much as 85 percent” of California’s budget is controlled by initiatives. Where he gets the 85 percent figure isn’t clear, but then Mr. Will is merely repeating what has become a fundamental piece of California political mythology: the idea that the state’s budget woes are the fault of voters and the initiative process. As updated research from Dr. John Matsusaka of the University of Southern California and the Initiative & Referendum Institute shows, unless California legislators were to zero-out education spending (which is mandated by Proposition 98, passed by voter initiative in 1988), the effective percentage of state spending mandated by initiatives is only 4 percent. That’s a tiny fraction of the state’s budget and begins to draw a clearer picture of just how misleading it is to blame the initiative process, rather than the legislature, for California’s budget problems.
If all community college and K-12 education spending, mandated by one initiative, the total spending locked in by initiative would be 33 percent, but Matsusaka argues against including education spending into any analysis of the impact of initiatives on state spending, writing:
This figure of 33 percent gives an exaggerated sense of the true constraints because the state would have appropriated much of the $34.66 billion on education committed by Proposition 98 even without the initiative. A requirement to spend money that would have been spent anyway is only a constraint in name.
Dr. Matsusaka goes on to say:
The evidence also contradicts the picture of California being encumbered year after year by a series of incompatible voter demands. Table A shows that the constraints are not the result of a gradual accumulation of mandates but rather are almost entirely the result of a single initiative, Proposition 98. Without Proposition 98, only 4 percent of the budget is locked in by initiatives.
Four percent, not 85 percent. Let’s repeat: four percent of California’s budget is controlled by ballot measures. Tell your friends.
Is the initiative process out of control, or is California’s legislature?