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A Constitutional Convention for California? July 28, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.

As everyone knows, California politics is dysfunctional, undermined by an initiative process that imposes incompatible demands on government. For instance, Proposition 13 destroyed the tax base and required supermajorities to pass tax increases; but Proposition 98 mandates that California devote 40% of its general fund to the schools.

Thus, there is a clear mandate for lower taxes which anti-government conservatives are only too happy to support; and a clear mandate for more services which government- friendly liberals are too happy to support.

One solution that is being discussed intensively is the possibility of a constitutional convention that would re-write the state constitution, change the initiative process, and set up a more rational process for making budgeting decisions.

A lot of the discussion regarding the constitutional convention has to do with how it would be set up and initiated. It is useful to think about this but we are not paying sufficient attention to the political dynamics involved.

Why think that the same forces that have created an incoherent governing process would be able to write a rational constitution? It is not as if the people who want lower taxes or more services will not be delegates.

I suspect that liberals are enthusiastic about this because they think there are more of the “more services” folks than the “lower taxes” folks. But I would like to see some evidence of that. My sense is that most Californians want both lower taxes and more services—that is why we are in this mess.

At any constitutional convention the interest groups that support “lower taxes” and those that support “more services” will be well-represented. Thus, the very same incoherence that we find in our present constitution will be well represented at any future constitutional convention. The resulting constitution will be just as incoherent.

Or a more frightening scenario may come to pass. There is good chance that the “lower taxes” folks will be better organized and better funded—they usually are. They may write into the constitution provisions that will make public goods as rare as California condors.

I am very nervous about a constitutional convention.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Ian Duckles - July 29, 2009

I share your fears about a Constitutional Convention, but I am not sure that it could produce anything worse than the current situation. If we could modify the initiative process and get rid of the 2/3 budget requirement, we would be pretty far along on solving some of the State’s most significant problems.

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