By Assemblyman Mike Gatto
Good lawmaking requires good information. As a legislator, I have access to in-depth analyses, often from several different points-of-view, on just about every measure I consider in committee or on the Assembly floor. Voters, on the other hand, often must rely on 15-second sound bites as they consider ballot measures that make fundamental changes to the state constitution.
I have amended my AB 65 to require disclosure to voters when a ballot initiative seeks to irrevocably dedicate our taxpayer dollars to one program forever. Perhaps you are like me: you generally support the concept of tobacco-cessation programs, but you want the flexibility to spend some (of the millions the state spends on such programs) on things like schools, when our schools are in danger of closing. Put another way, I wonder how many voters knew that when they approved an initiative to spend taxpayer funds on tobacco education, that those taxpayer dollars could never be spent on higher education.
Imagine a monthly household budget of $3000: $1500 goes to rent, $500 to car insurance and gas, $500 on food, and $500 on entertainment. Now imagine living with a rule that the $500 entertainment budget could never, ever, be spent on anything else. It would be pretty upsetting if someone broke their leg during the month and could only go to the movies, not the hospital! This is no way to run a household and no way to run a government. It also contributes to frustration.
When large percentages of our taxpayer dollars are “spoken for” (between 75 – 90% of the budget, depending on who you believe), there is little flexibility to move money around. During tough budget times, it is a shame to continue spending on what seem like lower priorities as we slash spending on core functions of government. My bill would require the attorney general and secretary of state to provide factual background in voter materials whenever an initiative seeks to forever dedicate revenue to the pet program of the day. It is readily apparent that we have to break down the silos in state government, to give us the flexibility everyone wants to adeptly configure our budget spending for an imminent crisis, a current need, or a future technology. In the meantime, it is important that voters are warned when they are about to create a new silo that could very well exist forever.
(Mike Gatto is the Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and parts of Los Angeles, including Atwater Village, Los Feliz, Franklin Hills, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, and Van Nuys. Website of Assemblyman Mike Gatto: www.asm.ca.gov/gatto)