Proposition 1A is key measure on the May 19 ballot

Listen to story

Download this story 1.0MB

Yes, you've been called to vote in this statewide special election or that one for years now. And yes, you're getting tired of it. But the special election a week from today is different from the rest. It's about your money and how you want the state of California to spend it. Your vote could save you money you need or it could hurt a program you need. Here's KPCC's Julie Small to sort out the choices with the key measure on the ballot: Proposition 1A.

Julie Small: Every once in a while – when the economy's really percolating – California's state government collect a lot more money in taxes than it expects. State lawmakers usually spend that extra cash. Julie Soderlund with the group "Budget Reform Now" says they ought to save it.

Julie Soderlund: The legislature and the governor just simply don't save the money like most of us do. In our personal lives, we have a savings account. The state of California doesn't have one!

Small: Actually, California does have a saving account. It's the "rainy day" fund voters approved five years ago. But Soderlund says lawmakers have been spending "rainy day" money come rain or shine. She says Proposition 1A on next week's ballot would restrict when money in the rainy day fund could be spent.

Soderlund: It's a pretty simple concept – and it's something that frankly the state should probably already be doing on its own. But we know that the politicians will never put that kind of restraint on themselves unless the voters impose it.

Small: If voters impose it, Proposition 1A would set the rules for when lawmakers can dip into the rainy day fund. Julie Soderlund says lawmakers could use that cash to plug a budget deficit. They wouldn't have to cut programs drastically in lean years – and state spending would even out.

1A would also more than double the percentage of state revenue that goes into the fund each year. Michael Cohen with the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office says that's true. He's part of the team that analyzes the fiscal effect of ballot measures.

Michael Cohen: We do think that there's going to be more money put away in the state's rainy day reserve under Proposition 1A than under current law. And that money would be available in future years. And so we think that over time, the changes in state spending should be lessened.

Small: But Proposition 1A opponents say every extra dollar that goes into the rainy day fund is a dollar that won't be spent on programs that need money now. Lillian Taiz is the president of the California Faculty Association, which represents professors at the 23-campus California State University.

Lillian Taiz: What Proposition 1A would do is having dug our budget into a huge hole, this 1A would be the 50-ton manhole cover that you drop then on top of that hole. And we're not getting out of there in the foreseeable future.

Small: Taiz says budget cuts have forced the California State University to teach more students with about a billion dollars less than it needs to do it. She says health care, home care, and other social welfare programs have been gutted badly. Taiz says doubling the percentage of state revenue that goes into a "rainy fund" will starve programs that Californians need.

Taiz: It's the Republican dream of what public services should look like. We should shrink them and shrink them and starve them and starve them and maybe they'll go away.

Small: But Michael Cohen with the Legislative Analyst's Office says Prop 1A is about how to spend – not about how much.

Cohen: The ultimate debate over how big government should be is not really answered by Proposition 1A.

Small: And to a certain extent, Proposition 1A makes sure the state government stays pretty big. It extends hikes in the state sales tax, in the state income tax, and in the vehicle license fee through 2013. That's to pay for the state spending commitments already in place.