Truth is the first casualty of war. In the war against initiative and referendum, we’ve heard an awful lot that, well, just ain’t so.
Leon Panetta tells us that California is, quote, “increasingly paralyzed by initiatives.” David Broder writes that politicians “have little room to maneuver.” Laura Tyson says California is “ungovernable” and claims initiatives dictate 70 percent of state spending. And The Economist babbles that while “Empowering the people sounds nice in theory; in practice, it makes it very hard for Sacramento politicians to balance the budget and take care of other state business.” Sounds terrifying except for those pesky facts.
Professor John Matsusaka of the University of Southern California did a study. Turns out that voter initiatives do not control 70 percent of California’s state budget. Actually, about 2 percent of California spending is dictated by voter initiatives. Granted, a 1988 initiative requires a minimum level of state education spending.
However, education spending is well in excess of this minimum level, so the voter mandate has not even kicked in. Professor Matsusaka notes that “The conclusion that voter initiatives have not caused the California budget crisis squares with other research on the effect of direct democracy nationwide. . . . [T]he initiative process is a scapegoat for the inability of elected officials to manage the competing demands for public funds in a period of declining revenue.” What a shocker, eh?
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.