After sitting through a daylong presentation put on by coalition of business leaders and government reform groups in Sacramento, it seems increasingly likely that voters will see on the ballot in 2010 two measures that would lead to the California Constitutional Convention since 1879.
What is a Constitutional Convention? It’s a group of people charged with developing recommendations for amendments to the state’s Constitution, all of which must be ratified by the voters. How those members are chosen and the scope of their work is still up in the air.
Californians may not realize it but they frequently amend their Constitution through the initiative process.
As the Bay Area Council and its partners — the Center for Governmental Studies, Common Cause, Courage Campaign and League of Women Voters and others — envision it, this convention would focus primarily on governance reforms designed to help resolve some of the state’s intractable problems.
This is scary stuff to people who fear that well-intentioned reforms could carry unintended consequences and leave the state in shambles.
But most of the crowd gathered in Sacramento today seemed to feel that the state is already in shambles thanks, in large part, to voter-approved initiatives that carved out dollars for everything from education to public safety to roads but left state leaders with decision-making authority only over 7 percent of the budget.
Potential reform topics include …stripping the two-thirds voting threshold to pass a state budget, extending or eliminating term limits, proportional representation in the Legislature, automatic reviews of the efficacy of every single state agency, modifications to Prop. 13 that would end protections for businesses, campaign finance reform and merging the bicameral Assembly and Senate into a single legislative body.
Also on the table are reform to the initiative process itself, such as creating a means by which the Legislature could directly pass measures deemed worthy or at least hold hearings and suggest language changes.
Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, is carrying a Constitutional Convention bill but almost nobody believes it can secure the necessary two-thirds vote to pass.
“I think you have to change the system from the outside,” DeSaulnier told the group this afternoon in Sacramento. “I compare governance in this state to the Winchester House. The initiatives are like rooms but they were built without any hallways so we can’t get to them.”
DeSaulnier moderated an interesting and humorous panel of former state legislators such as Elihu Harris of Oakland, Guy Houston of San Ramon and William Bagley of Marin County.”Those of us in office are knuckleheads and idiots but once you bcome a former legislator, you are the proverbial Yoda,” DeSaulnier joked.
Houston called for the griup to consider as one of the reforms a plan to lower the sales tax rate but expand it to include many services that are not taxed today. He said it would produce the same revenue but as a broader base, it would provide a more stable and reliable source of money for state.
As a side note, ex-State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata was supposed to be on the panel but he never made it; DeSaulnier jokingly speculated that Perata must be stuck in traffic because he can’t drive as fast as he did when he was in office.