Thursday, April 22, 2010

Taking A Constitutional

Tyler Cowan's proposes some changes to the California Constitution, which he notes is the third longest constitution in the world (India and Alabama (?!) are the champs). I have to say there is no great popular groundswell for a new constitution, but it's still fun to play James Madison. Here's Cowan's partial list: Should California Have A New Constitution?

1. Eliminate the 2/3 legislative majority required to pass a new budget.

2. Eliminate popular referenda.

3. Move closer to a Swiss-like "veto only" system for referenda.

4. Eliminate the power of referenda to authorize state-level expenditures.

5. Cap state-level expenditures.

6. Regulate state treatment of pensions more strictly, to encourage fiscal responsibility.

7. Amend the constitution to make it harder to...amend the constitution.

Cowan also links to an OK essay by Joseph Palermo that has other proposals, including one that had never occurred to me as a good idea. California Needs A New Constitution
1. Double the number of State Assembly members and State Senators

2. End the term limit requirement

3. End the "supermajority" rule that gives the far-right minority veto power over the state's budget

4. End all state tax exemptions for extractive industries (especially oil) and big agribusiness

5. Triple the number of signatures needed for propositions or recalls and forbid any group or organization from paying people to acquire signatures.

6. Place strict limits on out-of-state money coming into California to influence elections and impose even stricter spending caps on all political money spent in Sacramento either on lobbying or campaign contributions.
Now most of that list (limits on campaign donations, ending tax exemptions for Big Oil, repeal the "right wing" 2/3 vote, end term limits) is straight from the same progressive mind set that brought California to its present sorry shape. But, his idea of doubling the number of state representatives is actually a good one. As Palermo points out, the current set up provides for 80 representatives and 40 senators. These guys represent more people per head than members of Congress.

And Free Will kicked around a few constitutional changes last year. Like Cowan and Palmero, I am also in favor of reforming the initiative process, which is something that has simply lost its credibility with the voters: The Spirit Of 1851
3. end the use of propositions to pass bonds and spending measures. Those are properly the subject of our representatives. Let them vote on this stuff.

4. Make it a lot harder to get propositions on the ballot. No more legislative propositions, for one thing. And increase the signature requirement for petitions to 2 million. Any proposition that passes can be voided by the legislature. Any proposition requiring any public expenditures must contain sunset clauses.
Having had some time to think about this some more, I would add these to my list of proposed changes to the constitution (check my previous constitution post for more).
1. Repeal Prop. 98, which sets a constitutional standard for K-12 education spending, and is a real budgetary straight jacket.

2. no collective bargaining for public sector unions

3. Strengthen property rights and take other steps that can open up the housing market and lower housing costs. That means: declaring rent control unconstitutional, no more open space laws, increase the burden on local governments to adopt restrictive zoning laws.
All of this is fun, but people have to understand that there is no great popular groundswell for a new constitutional convention. And, as Cowan notes, any such convention could easily become a staging ground for the sort of special interest pleading that has swelled California's budget to the breaking point. Worse, a new constitution would still leave us with the same state representatives and voting blocs that have gotten California to where it is today. Sadly, there is no constitutional amendment that can save people from their foolish choices.

No comments:

Post a Comment