Hard to tell if Mark Neumann is serious when he states that he wants California-style referenda for Wisconsin, or if he is trying to find an angle to use in the upcoming governors race against his opponents. Either way the issue of ballot initiatives allowing the public to have this opportunity to impact policy more directly is fraught with all sorts of pitfalls. If Neumann had followed over the decades the situation that has developed in California as a result of their ballot measures, he would know Wisconsin should play no part in that idea.
To make it more clear for Mark Neumann I sum it up this way. The publicly driven voter initiatives have done more harm in California over the years to the political and budgetary process than anything else that state has encountered. Because of the number of ballot measures they have passed there is no wiggle room for their state legislature to hardly create a budget since it now requires a 2/3rds vote for passage. So if one wants to cut the budget, or include a needed new tax it takes something short of a miracle to make the process work.
Simply put, Mr. Neumann, that is absurd. Direct democracy in this fashion is not a sound idea. Wealthy individuals and special interest groups will have more say about the political process with these ballot measures and the political volume of the state will only increase. That is not a recipe Wisconsin needs or wants.
I think the voters elect representatives to make the hard calls. I do not think that the public-at-large, often with very limited abilities and insight, should have a series of voter initiatives to decide upon. That is no way to make the tough calls that are often needed to right the ship of state, and keep it afloat.
But don’t take my word for it Mr. Neumann, read what chief justice of the California Supreme Court has to say on the matter.
In a rare public rebuke of state government and policies delivered by a sitting judge, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court scathingly criticized the state’s reliance on the referendum process, arguing that it has “rendered our state government dysfunctional.”
In a speech Saturday before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Mass., the chief justice, Ronald M. George, denounced the widespread use of the referendum process to change state laws and constitutions. And he derided California as out of control, with voters deciding on everything from how parts of the state budget are spent to how farm animals are managed.
The state is unusual, he said, because it prohibits its Legislature from amending or repealing many types of laws without voter approval, essentially hamstringing that body — and the executive branch.
Justice George’s remarks come at a time of severe budget crisis in California stemming from a variety of factors, including mandates from ballot initiatives. Several groups on the left and the right are clamoring for changes to the state’s Constitution, including reining in of the direct democracy that has defined much of how the state operates.
This week, hundreds of people will convene in Sacramento for a conference on constitutional reform. A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to comment on the justice’s speech.
Justice George said that perhaps the “most consequential” impact of the referendum process is that it limits “how elected officials may raise and spend revenue.” He added, “California’s lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement — imposed at the ballot box — for raising taxes.”
He added: “Much of this constitutional and statutory structure has been brought about not by legislative fact-gathering and deliberation, but rather by the approval of voter initiative measures, often funded by special interests. These interests are allowed under the law to pay a bounty to signature-gatherers for each signer. Frequent amendments — coupled with the implicit threat of more in the future — have rendered our state government dysfunctional, at least in times of severe economic decline.”