California GOP Embraces a Complicated Budget Reform

The California Republican Party convention in Burbank last weekend wasn't expected to produce much news, given the mid-summer gathering of a party with few prospects for gains in a state with no real presidential contest.

But there was one mild surprise -- that could prove significant in the November elections, and in the never-ending fight over California's broken state budget process.

The GOP, known for its "Just say No" attitude on most proposed reforms, embraced Prop 31, the complicated proposal produced by California Forward Action Fund.

The measure is very long and complicated. Essentially, it combines a series of budget strategies -- including performance-based budgeting and pay-as-you-go rules -- that have been used in other states.

And it throws into this mix a Molotov cocktail of a proposal to give local governments power to work together and exempt themselves from state rules.

It's the kind of thing that Republicans once might have avoided. And not everyone at the convention endorsed the measure.

One opponent argued that by putting all the new budget rules in place, it would be next to impossible for the state to cut taxes again.

But Jon Fleischman, the longtime party operative best known as publisher of the Flash Report, supported the measure.

Central to Fleischman's argument was the opposition Prop 31 has attracted from labor unions, who believe the state should spend more and fear the budget rules will act like a spending cap.

That opposition made the measure attractive to Republicans -- since they see public employee unions in particular as their foes.

While Republicans make up fewer than one-third of registered voters in the state, the party's endorsement could have significant political consequences.

For one thing, it boosts the prospects of Prop 31, which could triumph with the support of a coalition of independents, good government types and rank-and-file Republicans.

It also puts more pressure on a labor movement that is already facing big, resource-sapping fights on the same ballot.

The unions are supporting Gov. Jerry Brown's Prop 30 -- a temporary tax-hiking measure -- and opposing Prop 32, a measure that would restrict their ability to collect dues and use the money for politics.

The unions have opposed Prop 31, too, though less vociferously.

The GOP, by coming out in favor of Prop 31, can argue that it has an affirmative agenda -- and add to labor's ballot pains. Politically, at least, going yes on 31 may prove to be a win-win for the party.

 Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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