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Constitutional convention would come with its risks

By   /   Monday, October 19th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Constitutional convention would come with its risks

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When it comes to cleaning up the fiscal mess that goes by the name “California,” there’s no shortage of proposed solutions.

Two very different approaches were the subject of the Ventura County Economic Development Association’s 2009 Outlook Conference.

Solution one is a series of targeted, single-purpose ballot initiatives aimed at ending the annual budget gridlock in Sacramento, putting limits on the length of the session and, perhaps, creating a two-year fiscal framework for the state.  Bill Leonard, a member of the California Board of Equalization, advocated forcefully for this position.

Solution two is a full-blown constitutional convention, which could dramatically alter the way California is governed and how its tax revenues are spent.

Given the magnitude of the Golden State’s problems, a constitutional convention looks on the surface as the right way to go. It certainly has caught the eye of a number of local elected officials who see the convention as a way to permanently end the money-grabbing that happens every year as the state steals back local tax revenue to balance its own books.

That said, there are reasons to be skeptical of a constitutional convention. One is that beyond balancing the scales for local government, there’s plenty of room for convention hijacking.

Even if the convention excludes hot-button social issues, special interests — particularly public employee unions — could make a grab for delegate seats and write new onerous job protections into the measure. Once the door gets open to new taxes, a VAT-like tax or other draconian measures for business could come onto the table.

Redistricting could be used as a tool to benefit certain geographic areas or to include — or exclude — some of California’s fast-growing minority groups.

Whatever comes of the convention, the result could be a series of unintended consequences that leave the state in more trouble than it was in before. One problem with the convention is that until a formula is set for choosing delegates, it will be hard to know how businesses, particularly the smaller companies that dominate the Tri-County landscape, will be represented.

“The best that businesses can hope for is a few businesspeople with smarts” on the panel of delegates, said VCEDA President Bill Buratto. Until businesspeople can be sure they’re going to get adequate representation,  they would be wise to be skeptical about a constitutional fix for California’s budget mess.

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