February 25, 2009

State Reformers Meet to Transform Calfornia

CALIFORNIA OPINION leaders who turned out Tuesday at a forum on government reforms said their top priority is getting rid of the Legislature's requirement for a two-thirds vote to approve state budgets and taxes, which has been blamed for record-long budget delays.

The supermajority rule and the mammoth effort it took the Legislature to find the needed votes last week to pass the new budget dominated the all-day summit, which looked at possible reforms to government in the state and the best way to bring them about.

"We have to drop the two-thirds rule," said Mark Paul, a senior scholar with the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute. "It's been a social science experiment for the past 75 years for the budget and the last 30 years for taxes, and it has failed utterly."

The supermajority requirement "destroyed accountabili
ty and fiscal responsibility," he said. "There's no one to hold accountable."

The two-thirds vote was one of many concerns for those who jammed into a ballroom at the Sheraton Grand Hotel to hear a variety of speakers and panelists talk about the need for change in California, change that could require a new state constitutional convention to bring it about.

"We have a system of government guided by a (state) Constitution that has more than 500 amendments," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a regional business group, and the driving force behind the call for a new convention.

"People of California need to take a look at what we have, take a look at what other states have and then try to come up with a system that functions better, that delivers better results faster," he added.

There was no shortage of suggestions. Although the two-thirds vote topped the list of suggested reforms, an unofficial survey of people at the summit also favored changes in the initiative process, more legislators in smaller districts, revisions to the term-limit laws and folding the Assembly and the state Senate into a single legislative body.

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