Your Guide to the Requirements for Approving Key Legislative Actions in California

June 4, 2014

Each year, state lawmakers grapple with an array of major public policy issues that are subject to varying requirements for approval. This year, for example, lawmakers are considering whether to extend a tax break for companies that make movies or television series in California, a proposal that needs only a simple majority vote of the Legislature and the Governor’s signature to take effect. In contrast, current proposals to sell general obligation (GO) bonds to finance new dams require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, the Governor’s signature, and voter approval.

For the most part, the rules for approving legislative actions are set forth in California’s lengthy and complex state Constitution. In an effort to help Californians navigate these rules, we’ve put together a simple, easy-to-read table that illustrates the key steps for approving 18 legislative actions, from passing the budget to amending the Constitution itself. This guide shows that more than half of these actions require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, most require the Governor’s signature, and a few need the consent of the voters.

— Scott Graves

The CBP Looks at Proposition 31

September 28, 2012

A new CBP analysis shines a light on Proposition 31, one of the most complex initiatives set to appear on the November 6 statewide ballot. Californians who’ve heard about the measure probably know that it would establish a two-year state budget cycle. But that’s just one of numerous provisions – which run the gamut from the modest to the sweeping – that would affect government at the state and local levels, as our new report shows. For example, Proposition 31 generally would require bills being considered in the Legislature to be in print and publicly available for three days prior to passage, a modest improvement that would help boost the transparency of the lawmaking process. However, the measure also includes several far-reaching provisions whose benefits aren’t so clear. These include allowing local governments to preempt state laws and regulations with locally developed alternatives, giving the Governor unilateral authority to cut state spending during a fiscal emergency, and establishing new pay-as-you-go, or “paygo,” rules that generally would require the Legislature to pay for some spending increases or tax cuts – those that exceed $25 million per year – with offsetting spending cuts and/or revenue increases.

Our analysis identifies a number of policy issues raised by Proposition 31. For example, allowing local governments to substitute locally designed rules for state laws and regulations could result in widely varying local approaches across a range of policy areas in which uniform statewide standards may be more appropriate. Moreover, Proposition 31 could also result in significant local policy changes that might not otherwise receive approval through the state’s ordinary – and longstanding – legislative and regulatory review processes. The measure’s paygo provisions also raise concerns. While properly designed paygo rules can be a valuable component of public budgeting practices, spending cuts and tax increases do not operate on a level playing field in California. Tax increases require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, whereas spending cuts can be adopted by majority vote. Consequently, Proposition 31’s paygo rules likely would result in the costs of new or expanded programs being paid for with cuts to existing services, rather than with tax increases. Our analysis also shows that the measure’s most far-reaching changes would be placed in the state Constitution, making them difficult to alter in the future if they prove to be ill-advised or unworkable.

– Scott Graves