Grassroots Democracy is one of the Key Values of the Green Party. We take transparency and access to information about one’s government very seriously.
That is why Proposition 42 – sponsored by the state legislature – is so disappointing. Either democracy is taken seriously, or it is not.
Proposition 42 would amend the state constitution to mandate local government agencies comply with various state laws providing for public access to local government meetings and records of government officials. This would apply to cities, counties, and school and community college districts, as well as park, fire, water and other special districts.
But Proposition 42 would also eliminate the state’s traditional responsibility to reimburse local governments for their costs to implement these laws, including certain parts of the Public Records Act – representing an annual cost shift in the tens of millions of dollars, as estimated by the California Legislative Analyst.
Local governments are often on very tight budgets. They also have far fewer tools to raise revenue than the state, and the tools they do have are often more regressive than those available to the state.
Transparency in government should not be dependent upon the finances or practices of any particular local government agency. Transparency should be even and guaranteed across all jurisdictions. The abdication of this in Proposition 42 is an example of what is wrong with our state’s priorities.
Instead of seeking a more progressive tax code to sustainably address our state’s structural deficit, and perhaps give local government more revenue raising ability, the state legislature nickels and dimes our democracy with unfunded mandates like Proposition 42.
This isn’t the first such self-induced wound to open government.
In 2012, a little known provision of Governor Brown’s Proposition 30 ended the state’s responsibility for the costs of local government agency compliance with the open meeting procedures of the Ralph M. Brown Act. Proposition 42 would expand that negative trend.
The Green Party is concerned that Governor Brown and the state legislature are using various tactics - like Propositions 30 and 42, as well as the termination of redevelopment agencies without backfilling funding for cities to meet their housing element mandates - to create the illusion that the state is fiscally sound, and its structural deficit has been addressed. In reality, the state too often shifts the burden for its responsibilities to local government, without ensuring funding for them.
For all these reasons the Green Party recommends a ‘No’ vote on Proposition 42. In its place, the state should continue to fund these services through progressive tax reform on the state level, and/or give local government more progressive tools to raise revenues.