The Budget Vote and the Two-Thirds Requirement
The California Constitution includes the following provisions about the budget process:
- The Governor shall submit a budget to the Legislature within the first 10 days of the calendar year.
- The Legislature shall pass a budget bill by midnight on June 15.
- Appropriations from the state's General Fund for any purpose other than public schools must be passed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
- Measures passed for the purpose of increasing state tax revenues must be passed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
- The Governor may reduce or eliminate any appropriation, while approving other portions of a bill, by means of a line-item veto.
The two-thirds vote requirement for appropriations was added to the state's Constitution in 1933, as a result of the passage of Proposition 1, known as the Riley-Stewart Tax Plan. Until then, appropriations from the General Fund (in the form of the Budget Act) were treated like any other legislation and needed a simple majority to pass. State Controller Ray Riley and Senator Frank Stewart were concerned about the growth of government expenditures. Proposition 1 set a spending limit of 5 percent in any two-year period, excluding K-12 education. If the budget grew by less than 5 percent a simple majority was sufficient for passage; however, if spending grew by more than 5 percent a two-thirds vote was required.
The 5 percent spending-limit trigger persisted until it was removed by the passage of Proposition 16 in 1962. Purporting to "eliminate obsolete and superseded provisions" in the state Constitution, this measure deleted the spending-limit portion of the Riley-Stewart Act and left in the two-thirds vote requirement for all appropriations other than those for public education.
California is one of only three states that require a two-thirds vote, or "supermajority" to pass most General Fund spending. The other two are Arkansas and Rhode Island. Five states have a variety of supermajority vote requirements: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, and Nebraska.
Reform Proposals and Proposition 25
Since 1980, the Legislature has met its June 15 deadline for passing the Budget Act only five times. A number of commissions and task forces have reviewed the budget process, and several have recommended changing the two-thirds vote requirement. The most recent reform effort was Proposition 56 in 2004. This measure would have changed the vote requirement to 55 percent for both budget adoption and for raising taxes. Proposition 56 was defeated by 66 percent of the voters.
What Proposition 25 Would and Wouldn't Do
Proposition 25 would lower the vote requirement necessary for each house of the Legislature to pass a budget bill from two-thirds to a majority (50 percent plus 1). The lower vote requirement would also apply to trailer bills that appropriate funds and are identified by the Legislature "as related to the budget in the budget bill." The constitutional provisions of Proposition 25 do not address the two-thirds vote requirement for increasing state tax revenues, and the measure states that its intent is not to change that requirement regarding state taxes.
Proposition 25 would also prohibit members of the Legislature from collecting any salary or reimbursements in any year when the Legislature has failed to meet its June 15 deadline for sending a budget bill to the Governor. This prohibition would remain in effect from June 15 until the day the budget is presented to the Governor, and the prohibited salaries and expenses could not be paid to legislators at a later date.