Hancock: Defeat spending cap, roll back 2/3 vote

For someone who’s sleeping better now that she’s no longer locked down with 38 colleagues inside the State Capitol, state Sen. Loni Hancock still doesn’t sound terribly happy about the budget deal.

That’s because she believes the deal clearly illustrates the fault lines along which California’s government has cracked, Hancock, D-Berkeley, told about two dozen members of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club this afternoon over plates of mole and carnitas at Cocina Poblana in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Those cracks should be read as a road map for government reform, said the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee: In the short term, abolition of the requirement that budgets be approved by 2/3 votes of the Legislature, and substantial reform of California’s out-of-control ballot initiative process.

The budget process “was a very demoralizing and disheartening process, and it cannot be repeated again and again,” she said.

More after the jump…

Hancock noted only California, Rhode Island and Arkansas require 2/3 votes of the Legislature to pass all their budget and tax-increase bills; in a state of 37 million diverse residents, she said, “it does not work.”

She has authored legislation to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment rolling the 2/3 requirement for budget bills back to a simple majority. Hancock said Democrats decided to shoot for this rather than budget and tax bills both because they feel it would let the majority re-take control of setting California’s public-policy spending priorities, independent of the minority’s demands for unrelated policy changes (like the labor and environmental-protection rollbacks demanded by some GOP lawmakers this year), and without giving anti-tax ideologues enough ammunition to defeat it at the polls.

The catch, of course, is that her legislation would need 2/3 votes of the Legislature in order to make it onto the ballot. It’s a trial balloon, she acknowledged; if such a measure goes on the ballot, it almost certainly will have to get there via petition signatures.

And, speaking of ballot measures, her committee and its Assembly equivalent held a joint hearing Wednesday to examine the initiative process. Hancock said she’s more aware than ever now that California is the only state that doesn’t ever let the Legislature amend laws put in place by voter-approved initiatives. She expressed interest in the “indirect initiative” process used in some states, in which an initiative that already has achieved enough signatures to qualify for the ballot goes first to the Legislature, which has a period of time in which to act on the issue itself or offer amendments to the proposed ballot measure. If the Legislature doesn’t act, the initiative can go forward as proponents had planned.

First and foremost, however, Californians need to understand the danger of the spending cap they’ll be asked to approve as Proposition 1A in May 19’s special election, she said, calling it a potentially crippling stricture that could make it impossible to rebuild California from education, social-service and other cuts already suffered. Hancock was one of only five legislative Democrats who voted against putting the cap on the ballot as part of this budget deal; others included Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. But watch for all Democratic lawmakers, even those who agreed to allow a vote, campaign hard against it over the next two and a half months.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.