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California Budget

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The California Legislature will finally fix the budget today, with the deadlock having been broken, Stu Woo reports in the WSJ. The fix adds a full percent to California's already obscene sales tax and a surcharge to our already obscene income tax.

The final vote came from Republican Senator Abel Maldonado, from the central coast area. He exacted as his price an agreement to put several constitutional amendments on the ballot. This alert in the SacBee describes them:
* A constitutional amendment establishing an open primary system.

The measure will place on the June 2010 ballot an open primary proposal affecting congressional and state races in 2012 and beyond.

Under the plan, the top two candidates in a primary would face off in a general election. Candidates would not participate in partisan primaries, but they would be able to retain their party labels on the ballot.

* A constitutional amendment banning legislative pay increases during deficit years. This measure is intended for a May 19 special election ballot, along with measures to make changes to the California lottery and establish a "rainy day" fund.

Legislative leaders rejected Maldonado's proposal to eliminate legislative pay altogether when the budget is late, arguing the idea was unconstitutional.

* Elimination of the 12-cent additional gas tax, which was estimated to bring in $2.1 billion through June 2010. The money will be replaced with a 0.25 percent increase in the state income tax, federal stimulus dollars and more than $600 million in line-item vetoes.

One of the reasons the California Legislature is dysfunctional is the incumbent-protection gerrymander. Each district is engineered to be as heavily in favor of one party as possible.  The California Constitution, Article XXI ยง 1(e), requires respect for the integrity of cities and counties in drawing the lines, but a minor detail like the Constitution they have sworn to uphold can't be allowed to impede legislators' safe reelection.

The byproduct of this gerrymander is that the primary is the main election, and the general election is a foregone conclusion. To win the primary, one appeals to the party's base, so we get a polarized legislature made up of the lefter wing of the Democratic Party and the righter wing of the Republican Party.

Maldonado apparently believes that open primaries will get us more moderate legislators. In a heavily Republican district, for example, the two leading candidates might be a moderate Republican and an immoderate Republican. In the general election, the moderate would presumably get the votes of the moderate Republicans, plus most of the Democrats (as the "lesser evil") and the lion's share of the independents, adding up to a majority even in a conservative district. The mirror-image, in theory, applies to a heavily Democratic district. I don't know if that is true. Even if the legislative leaders keep their word and put it on the ballot, it still has to be approved by the people and pass court scrutiny.

A less polarized, more moderate legislature would be good for crime legislation. Democrats can kill strong, popular crime bills when they run in safe, hard-left districts that would never elect a Republican, as too many do at present. We'll see.

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California sounds a lot like New York State.

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