Proposition 93 would make a good law better
California's term-limits law was passed 17 years ago to bring fresh faces and new ideas into the Legislature. It has worked.
The power of the Legislature combined with term limits have brought California landmark environmental legislation, historic civil rights bills and once-in-a-generation investments in our infrastructure.
These accomplishments have kept California as a state of "firsts." In 1990, we were among the first to get term limits. Since then, 14 other states have followed our lead and California has some of the strictest term limits of any state.
Despite our legislative gains, California's term-limits law could work even better. Proposition 93 is a common-sense revision that would maintain the safeguards provided by term limits while improving the quality of our representation in Sacramento.
Right now, legislators can serve three terms of two years each in the Assembly and two terms of four years each in the state Senate for a total of 14 years. This discourages long-term thinking to tackle California's biggest challenges, such as the state budget, healthcare, water issues and transportation.
The flaw in the current system of term limits is that it keeps legislators from gaining enough experience to be truly effective. We've come a long way as a state with the system we have and we can do better with a reformed system of term limits.
The Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act is a modest, balanced reform that adheres to the core principles of term limits. It provides a solid time horizon for legislators to gain the experience they need to be effective and maintains a healthy turnover.
That turnover keeps ideas fresh and allows California to maintain its reputation as the center of innovative public policy.
Proposition 93 would reduce the total amount of time a legislator can serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 years and allow a legislator to serve all 12 years in either the Assembly, the Senate or a combination of the two.
The 12-year limit in Proposition 93 would make sure a legislator's time in office couldn't be measured in generations but would allow the time to gain experience to be effective. Additionally, by allowing legislators to serve their entire tenure in either the Assembly or Senate, Proposition 93 would drastically reduce the amount of political jockeying that dominates Sacramento, as legislators would not be consumed with moving up the political ladder.
Proposition 93 comes at an important time for California. With a budget deficit headed north of $14 billion, major healthcare reform on the cusp of being a reality and a host of other issues looming, we need experience where it counts: in the Legislature.
"Experience" means legislators who not only have achieved sound objectives but who have encountered the pitfalls of tackling major challenges. Without success and failure, learning is impossible.
As a recent Center for Government Studies report, "Termed Out: Reforming California's Legislative Term Limits," (PDF) states, "On balance, the benefits of a 12-year plan outweigh its negative consequences without undoing the gains achieved by term limits."
The time is right to reform term limits and make our Legislature as effective as it can be.
Steve Westly is the former state controller and is currently chief executive of the Westly Group, a venture capital firm that invests in clean technology companies.