Govt Reform For All To Love... And Hate

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A bipartisan group of seasoned ex-politicians and policy wonks has settled on a package of government reform proposals while sending a pretty simple message to those inside the state Capitol: work with us or stand aside.

The leaders of the group California Forward sent a letter today to Governor Schwarzenegger and the leaders of the Legislature outlining a detailed set of proposals crafted after the group's long listening tour around the state.

"Our goal," says the letter, "is fundamental change: government that's small enough to listen, big enough to tackle real problems, smart enough to spend our money wisely in good times and bad, and honest enough to be held accountable for results."

The letter is signed by CA Forward's co-chairs, former Assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg and Thomas McKernan, CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The group has settled on an endorsement of 11 government reforms; read the Hertzberg/McKernan letter for the entire list. Among the more intriguing proposals are majority vote passage for a budget, and a tightening of the Legislature's ability to go around a tax increase through the raising of specific fees.

The majority vote budget is a familiar demand. But what's interesting is that California Forward's position is an actual honest to goodness majority vote; even a Democratic-sponsored initiative plan doesn't go that far, suggesting instead the legislative vote threshold be reduced to 55% (Another initiative pegs it at 60%). The group is embracing a simple majority vote (they reject calls for a lowering of the vote needed to raise taxes) even though polling they commissioned shows less than half of those surveyed like the idea.

On the fees issue, California Forward switches from siding with liberals to siding with conservatives. A long standing gripe, one that's been litigated but never really settled, is that the Legislature imposes a fee by a majority vote... and then ostensibly uses those fee revenues in ways critics say actually operate like a tax. Of course, it's never quite clear cut, hence the reason the issue remains hotly debated. The California Forward plan would "clarify the circumstances in which the Legislature and the governor can impose fees without a two-thirds majority vote to those areas with a clear and justifiable nexus to the service provided."

Other proposals from the group are much more broad, and perhaps a little harder to enforce, including ways to link state budget decisions more to actual results and effectiveness of programs.

Hertzberg (who became co-chair after Leon Panetta was called back to the political major leagues) and McKernan write in their letter that while they hope lawmakers move the reform proposals forward on their own, the group would consider the initiative route if Capitol consensus isn't doable.

Given how consensus resides with the Tooth Fairy in the state Capitol... expect much of the California Forward agenda to depend on the political campaign process if it's ever to get off the ground.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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