Prop. 31: Good goals, problematic means

Initiative's main goals are to make state government more efficient and return some control to local governments. But the details raise a few questions.

SACRAMENTO — The most nerdy, wonky and nap-inducing measure on the Nov. 6 ballot is Proposition 31.

It's not a minor measure, exactly, but it's hardly monumental either.

It might do some good, might do some bad.

On the ballot, it's called: "State Budget. State and Local Government. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute."

Are you still with me?

INTERACTIVE: 2012 California Propositions

It's long and complex. To the average voter, I suspect, it reads like gobbledygook. I know it does to me.

The measure has two main goals:

•Make state government more efficient, transparent and prudent.

It tries to do this by tinkering with the legislative process and granting the governor more power to cut spending if the lawmakers won't.

•Restore a smidgen of the local government control that flowed to Sacramento after property taxes were sharply cut 34 years ago by Proposition 13.

This is achieved by empowering and encouraging the locals to write their own rules for delivering state-funded services, including environmental protections. They'd get an additional $200 million from the state as an inducement.

The goals are worthy, the means questionable.

Prop. 31 is the product of California Forward, a blue-ribbon reform group generously funded by foundations. It has been trying for years, with limited success, to reform California government.

When the Legislature basically ignored its latest proposal, the organization went to the ballot with an initiative.

Half the $3 million-plus cost of collecting signatures was paid for by another would-be reformer, globe-trotting billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen. But he seems to have abandoned the campaign after being screamed at by his environmentalist friends.

So let's wade into this, preferably while injecting caffeine.

Among the measure's features:

•State budgets would have to be enacted for two years, rather than just one. This would force some long-range planning.

Problem is, the governor and Legislature can't even plan for two months, let alone two years. Budgets usually turn into red ink the moment they're signed.