California voters may have made it easier for a new Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature to pass a state budget by lowering the budget vote requirement, but they also have made it more difficult to balance the budget.
Proposition 25, which lowers the legislative vote margin for budgets and related bills from two-thirds - part of California law for many decades - to a simple majority, passed handily on Tuesday, thanks to a strong campaign for it by unions and other groups with a direct interest in the budget.
That was good news for the Legislature's majority Democrats, who have long chafed over minority Republicans' use of the two-thirds vote to demand concessions on the budget and other issues.
But by passing several other ballot measures, voters closed off revenue sources that Democrats and the new governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, could use to balance the budget without deep spending cuts or broad new taxes.
Voters, for instance, rejected Proposition 24, backed by public employee unions and other liberal groups, which would have repealed a couple of billion dollars in new corporate tax breaks that Republicans demanded last year as a price for passing a budget. And they also passed Proposition 22, which makes it more difficult - bordering on the impossible - for the state to tap local government revenues, such as redevelopment funds, to balance the state budget.
In addition to protecting local government coffers, Proposition 22 punches an immediate billion-dollar hole in the state budget by forcing the state to directly pay for transportation bonds, rather than tapping gasoline taxes for bond service.
When they rejected Proposition 21, which would have imposed a $18 annual fee on car registrations to support state parks, voters indirectly decreed that the parks must continue to be financed from the deficit-ridden state budget, worsening the budget crisis.
Finally, by passing Proposition 26, raising the legislative vote threshold on many state and local fees from a simple majority to two-thirds, voters made it more difficult for Democrats to turn to fees to relieve the budget dilemma.In fact, it may indirectly repeal some fees on the books already, worsening the budget squeeze.
Collectively, those actions appear to put the budget monkey squarely on the backs of Brown and the Legislature's Democrats, forcing them to either make deep spending cuts or ask voters for additional taxes without sharing the political onus with Republicans.
Brown has said he won't impose new taxes without voter approval, but persuading voters to do so in the midst of a deep recession would be problematic.