Proposition 42 Passed, So Now What
Tuesday’s statewide primary election yielded some interesting results: perhaps record low voter turnout, a new influx of campaign cash in the form of independent expenditures for state legislative races, and some real nail-biter results, with a number of races around the state too close to call. Perhaps the least surprising news of the night: Proposition 42 passed handily.
Tuesday’s statewide primary election yielded some interesting results: perhaps record low voter turnout, a new influx of campaign cash in the form of independent expenditures for state legislative races, and some real nail-biter results, with a number of races around the state too close to call. Perhaps the least surprising news of the night: Proposition 42 passed handily. That’s the constitutional amendment to enshrine the provisions of the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records Act in the state constitution and exempting them from the reimbursable mandate provisions,.
(At about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, a local television news station began reporting that Propositions 41 and 42 were failing, and not by any small margin. I nearly choked on my Election Night ice cream. Sure enough, the Twitterverse erupted and by the next commercial break, the vote counts were reversed and all was right with the world. Whew.)
While Proposition 42 was being considered in the Legislature, CSAC joined with the League of California Cities and the California Special Districts Association in expressing concerns about the Legislature’s approach to dealing with these two mandates. The precedent set by placing a popular mandated service into the state constitution and exempting it from the requirement that the state pay for any new programs or higher levels of service, is of great concern to local governments, especially given our long-standing frustration with the current mandate reimbursement process.
Future legislative changes to the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records Act will now avoid the scrutiny of fiscal review; when the state doesn’t have any fiscal incentive to consider local costs as part of statewide statutory requirements, it doesn’t have much incentive to ensure efficiency and effectiveness for local agencies that are supposed to be providing the service.
California counties value transparency and accountability in government. They strive daily to be open and accountable to their residents. But counties also understand that mandates from the state don’t always translate into cost-effective services for Californians and are rightly concerned about the fiscal implications of such.
Proposition 42 inherently conflicted with this premise, created enough of a challenge for the CSAC Board of Directors that it could not even arrive at a final position. Counties (and other local agencies for that matter) had been following the statutory obligations of both the Open Meetings Act and the Public Records Act without any reimbursement from the state for years. (Incidentally, the Public Records Act mandate has not been suspended; costs associated with this mandate are owed for services provided prior to the passage of Proposition 42. So, there’s that.)
In my experience, supervisors usually have an inherent sense of what is right for counties and their constituents. In this instance, however, the conflict was much more difficult to resolve. Not to mention the difficulties of trying to communicate the nuances of the mandate reimbursement process and what is required of local agencies under these two sets of laws to voters. I’ve spoken to a couple of reporters about these nuances. Notice that you haven’t read or heard much about them during this election cycle.
It’s difficult to predict if Proposition 42 serves as a precedent. (Certainly, we Californians don’t shy away from amending our state constitution for all kinds of things.) But it does highlight the need to reform the too-long, too-complex, way too-screwed up screwy mandate reimbursement process into a predictable, rational way to assess the value (both social and financial) of new programs or higher levels of service at the local level and agree upon ways to finance them.