SB 202: Better Timing For Ballot Measures
By Anthony Wright
Health Access California
In addition to the handful of health reforms on the Governor's desk, SB202 (Hancock/Gordon) is an important measure on the timing of ballot initiatives. In particular, the bill ensures that ballot measures are scheduled for general elections in November, rather than primaries in June. It also shifts a planned referendum on a spending cap measure to 2014.
The Timing of Ballot Initiatives: Health Access supports the policy of requiring ballot measures to be voted on during general elections, in November, with the broadest possible electorate, rather than in primary elections in June or otherwise, when a smaller fraction of the voting public turns out.
Health Access California has been actively involved in numerous ballot measures over our two decade history, on issues from HMO consumer protections to prescription drug discounts to expansions of employer-based coverage. Many of these ballot measures would have impacted a substantial portion of the California electorate--yet if they were scheduled in a primary election, a smaller fraction of California voters would have had a voice in adopting those policies. There are times in the future that a primary election might help a health consumer initiative; there are times where it would hurt the prospects of a given initiative--yet as a onetime and likely future initiative proponent, we should not be able to pick-and-choose our voters.
Ensuring that these measures are voted on in the general election means that the greatest number of Californians have the opportunity to participate and craft policy that will impact everyone in the state.
Delaying ACA 4: Shifting ACA 4 until the 2014 ballot makes sense for both supporters and opponents of the measure. Health Access does oppose the policy that it represents, and believe more time is needed to consider the grave impacts on California and its budget process; but we believe that consideration of ACA 4 is especially troublesome in 2012, as California first needs to address the "wall of debt" before putting resources into a "rainy day" fund.
ACA 4 has sometimes been called a spending cap or a rainy day fund, other times a set of budget handcuffs and constitutional straightjacket. The measure, if enacted, would place significant constraints on the Governor's ability to craft a budget, putting formulas in the constitution that will curtail the power of the Governor and Legislature to come up with a budget agreement.
Beyond that, the formulas in ACA 4 don't take into account key elements of the California budget, such as medical inflation, or the demographics of an aging population. This means that these formulas will, over the years, serve to ratchet down existing core programs. Any spending cap should take these factors into account; ACA 4 does not.
Finally, the measure would start setting aside money for a "rainy day" funds while we are still dealing with a flood. You have appropriately stated that the current need is to retire the "wall of debt" that the state holds. To the extent that the state has additional resources available, we think they should go to restorations and investments that will help stir the economy (for example, by drawing down federal matching funds), or to retiring debt, which will provide for greater budget flexibility in the future, since California would no longer be on the hook for interest payments. At this particular time, we have other, more vital debt service and investments to make--ones that will provide greater bang for the buck in terms of an improved economy and future budget savings.
We hope the Governor signs SB202 (Hancock).
Anthony Wright is Executive Director of Health Access California, a statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition of over 200 groups. This article originally appeared on the Health Access blog.