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League of Cities chief promotes initiative

League of California Cities executive director Chris McKenzie pumped his organization’s ballot initiative at last night’s meeting of the Contra Costa Mayors Conference.

McKenzie predicts the league will submit the required 1.1 million signatures ahead of the late April deadline and points out why he thinks it will pass muster with voters in November.

McKenzie’s best line of the night was when he compared the Legislature to 1944 existentialist existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre called “No Exit” and “Waiting for Godot,” atheater of the absurd play by Samuel Beckett.

We all laughed. We instinctively knew it was an insult. But some of us admitted to each afterward that we only had a vague knowledge of either “No Exit” or “Waiting for Godot.” (Yes, I googled the titles.)

Check out the video.

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Legislature source of most costly ballot measures

Legislators love to complain about how the ballot initiative process costs the state money and ties their hands on the budget.

But a new analysis from the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies revealed today in Oakland shows that of the $11.85 billion worth of ballot measures voters approved between 1988 and 2009, 83 percent were placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

“Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you,” Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern told members today of the Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Improving State Government co-chaired by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

The center found that of the 68 ballot measures requiring additional funding passed by voters between 1988-2009, 51 originated with the Legislature while 17 were placed on the ballot by proponents who successfully gathered the requisite number of signatures.

Of the 68 measures, 52 were bond measures.

The legislative measures required $9.8 billion in additional government funding, or 83 percent, while the balance totaled $2.05 billion.

The most expensive legislative measure came in 2004, when voters approved a $15 billion plan to close the budget deficit.

The highest price tag among the 17 initiatives that passed was the $500 million annual after-school program.

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California gets plenty of reform advice

Experts on governance reform from throughout the state and the country delivered plenty of advice at today’s daylong conference in Sacramento on the California constitutional reform movement.

The sold-out event at the Sacramento Convention Center featured speakers from a host of universities and other organizations on everything from the history of state constitution revisions and the political realities of reform.

Sponsored by UC-Berkeley, Stanford and Cal-State Sacramento, the conference grew out of a growing statewide interest in reforming the way the state governs itself in the wake of policy paralysis in the Legislature. The Bay Area Council is among a coalition of groups leading a drive to place on the ballot a call for a Constitutional Convention, which would rewrite and bring back to voters proposed changes in governance.

The conference will be aired on the California Channel, the state’s equivalent to CPAN. Check its web site for air dates.

Here is a sampling of what some of these folks had to say:

Amy Bridges, professor of political science, University of California, San Diego — Speaking on prior consitutional conventions, “where people took their responsibilities seriously, ofen at great personal sacrifice, they made great progress in the growth of their state. With any luck at all, we ought to be able to do the same thing.”

Glen Gendzel, assistant professor history, San Jose State University — He suggests taking from potential convention discussion changes related to personal rights, requiring court review of initiatives prior to submission to voters and even the financial playing field during initiative campaigns through the use of public dollars to match those spent by private entities.

Barry Keene, former state legislator who called for a Constitutional Convention when he served in the state Senate — Talking about the time he served on a 1960s Constitutional Revision Commission, he said the disussion was heavily dominated by special interests heavily invested in the status quo. He urged those who participate in the convention, if one is held, not to spend time on disputes that cannot be resolved. California will have a convention, he predicted, as soon as “enough haves have more to lose by the status quo than by risking a new world order.”

R. William Hauck, president and CEO of California Business Roundtable — “We need to ask California to pay more attention to ‘us’ and not ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘How will it help me get re-elected?’ ”

Ann Lousin, professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago — To be successful, California Constitutional Convention must produce a document that a majority of its delegates enthusiastically support and one that its voters will adopt.

Alan Tarr, professor and director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies at Rutgers University in Massachusetts — To avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in other states, California should consider holding its convention outside the typical political venues, encourage average citizens to participate and limit the topics under consideration. “If the document is viewed as another top-down reform, it will not go forward,” he said.