Friday, May 29, 2009

Chemerinsky On The Constitutional Convention

Erwin Chemerinsky in the Los Angeles Times (here) is skeptical about whether a convention will solve California's constitutional problems. The reason? The same politics that makes it so hard to get anything done under the present constitutional scheme. Here's the gist: "Even if there is a constitutional convention, and even if it does come up with a coherent and meaningful package of proposed changes, it's uncertain that that package would ever be adopted. There are countless controversial issues that could doom it. For example, if the revised constitution protects a right to marriage equality for gays and lesbians, a significant number of voters will oppose it on that basis alone. But if the new constitution does not protect a right to marriage equality, others will vote against it for that reason. The same impasse could arise over abortion rights, affirmative action or benefits for undocumented immigrants.

"Even if the constitutional convention were narrowly limited to issues related to the state's fiscal problems, this difficulty would not go away. For example, Proposition 13, which limits property taxes, has a greatly distorting effect on the state's tax structure, and I would certainly argue that it should be repealed or, at least, reformed. But simple politics tells us that a proposal to repeal Proposition 13 would be enormously controversial and could doom any constitutional reform. The same goes for repeal of the two-thirds requirement for passing budgets."

In other words, as I said in my own article on some related issues (here), having a convention doesn't make the politics of stalemate go away--it just transfers them to a different forum. And it wil take time, too. Better to immediately repeal the two-thirds rule for passing a budget (and for raising taxes, too).

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