Might Redistricting Process Run Out of Cash?
Just a little over a year after voters created an independent commission to draw most of California's political maps, the process is costing a lot more money than was allocated.
In fact, it's possible the commission that's slated to convene in 2011 may have as its first task to ask lawmakers for more funding.
The campaign in support of Proposition 11 was all about creating an new -- and arguably more fair -- way of drawing districts for the Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization.
"Tell the politicians you're frustrated," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Sacramento campaign event in September 2008. "Vote yes for Proposition 11 and make government work once again for the people."
Prop 11, which was ratified by a razor-thin 50.9% of voters, set in motion a complicated process of recruiting Californians to serve on the commission that will draw new political maps after the 2010 census. Deep inside the initiative, it laid out the following formula for how to pay for all of this:
The Legislature shall make the necessary appropriation in the Budget Act, and the appropriation shall be available during the entire three-year period. The appropriation made shall be equal to the greater of three million dollars ($3,000,000), or the amount expended pursuant to this subdivision in the immediately proceeding redistricting process
But even before the period for citizens to apply to be on the commission begins next Tuesday, documents show that just getting through the initial stages and PR campaign is projected to cost $2.24 million.
That's 75% of the entire amount Prop 11 authorized to be spent over the entire three year process.
"I think $3 million was certainly underestimating the amount of expenditures that were going to be necessary to carry this measure out," said State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Howle was tasked by the initiative to implement the creation of the Citizens Redistricting Commission, and has used her existing staff to create the application for would-be commissioners. The auditor's office will then oversee the vetting of applicants and the selection of eight of the actual commissioners by the end of the year. She says seating the 14 member panel is just the beginning; the commission will then need staff, office space, legal advice, and more. Commissioners are also to be paid $300 for every day of work.
In a letter to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee some six weeks ago, Howle said the bulk of the upfront costs -- $1.36 million -- will go to a statewide PR campaign, under a contract with Ogilvy Worldwide Media. Prop 11 mandates that there's a statewide outreach effort, though it doesn't specify what kind. Nonetheless, the auditor said in an interview Wednesday that public hearings across California earlier this fall made it clear that getting the word out was important, especially in minority communities. And, as most in Sacramento will tell you, the auditor has a reputation for being frugal.
"For $3 million to cover all of those activities, that's not enough," said Howle.
The bulk of the PR money is to be spent buying air time for radio ads across California. Some of the money, though, could be spent on outreach that seems... well, unusual. For example, the Ogilvy proposal includes as much as $150,000 for marketing at sporting events. Are rabid fans the kind of folks who will get jazzed up about being on the citizens redistricting commission? Auditor Howle says that part of the proposal may be modified, if it seems it's not having any impact.
The auditor first asked legislators for more money this summer. And on September 21, budget chair Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) wrote to Howle to recommend only $500,000 of the Prop 11 money be allocated for PR, with other costs covered by redirecting existing resources inside the Bureau of State Audits.
Howle wrote back to Ducheny, saying she was "disappointed" in the rejection and saying that she would "reluctantly" cover the rest of the costs, for now, through a loan from the State Audit Fund.
But all of this begs the question: why was the budget for the redistricting process -- $3 million over the entire three year period -- so off?
Kathay Feng, a proponent of Prop 11 and executive director of California Common Cause, calls the amount a "baseline." She says $3 million is an estimate of what the Legislature spent in 2001 on the redistricting process, though admits that the independent citizens commission is a different animal.
"The Governor and the Legislature are going to have to come together," said Feng, "look at how much is going to need to be allocated for a robust public process, and make that a priority."
Those working on the process of accepting applications from would-be citizen map drawers have set up a website and will begin their big PR blitz next week.
As for how it will ultimately be paid for? You guessed it: the annual state budget process. And it will be interesting to see the reactions of legislators to the ultimate request... many of whom were less than thrilled to hand over their map drawing powers in the first place.
Audio from the radio version which aired this morning on The California Report: