Recommendations on college funding, longer term limits and Indian gaming | January 18, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Perspective - January 18, 2008

Recommendations on college funding, longer term limits and Indian gaming

There are seven state propositions on the February ballot, but it's not as diverse as the number may sound. Proposition 91 has been abandoned by its proponents because a similar measure has already passed. Prop 92 deals with community colleges; Prop 93 revises term limits for state legislators; and the final four, 94 through 97, are all part of an Indian gambling package.

There is no campaign associated with Prop 91. It's not needed.

We suggest a No vote on Prop 91.

Proposition 92 would dedicate substantial additional funding to community colleges, averaging some $300 million per year for the next three years; reduce student fees from $20 to $15 per unit; and make changes in the governing structure of community colleges that would have the effect of providing more independence and less oversight. Teachers' unions are split on this issue. Democratic legislators are split. The state college and University of California governing boards oppose it. Each player is defending his or her own turf in what is seen as a battle for very limited funds. We believe that community colleges, including our own Diablo Valley College, provide a vital function in our state. We also believe that they have often been neglected in favor of more powerful interests, including K-12 schools and the UC and state college systems. The spectacle of well-intentioned educators fighting with each other for limited funds is a sad one. They all have compelling stories and real needs. We believe that the needs of community colleges should be addressed. However, we don't like conducting state budgeting by locking in formulas through initiatives. In addition to the general principle, there are legitimate questions regarding how this particular formula works. The fact that we have a state budget deficit estimated to be in the $14 billion range only reinforces our skepticism about any costly state initiative.

We suggest a No vote on Prop 92.

The initiative with the broadest effect is 93. Under current law, members of the state Assembly can serve up to three two-year terms - for a total of six years. State senators can serve up to two full four-year terms - for a maximum of eight years. Since legislators can serve in both bodies, maximum legislative service could be up to 14 years. Under the terms of Prop 93, legislators would be allowed to serve a maximum of 12 years in either body or combination of the two. Because, unfortunately, they couldn't resist giving themselves a special deal, the measure also provides that sitting members may serve up to 12 years in their current body, regardless of past service in either body. This could extend the terms of some incumbents well beyond 12 years. We think the current term-limit system has serious problems, primarily because assembly members with a six-year service limit are barely elected before they must leave. The result is Assembly speakers and other leaders with seldom more than a couple of years' experience when they assume their positions. Committee heads, who guide major policy changes, have little experience and, in some cases, may even be newly elected. This situation produces less informed and effective legislators and shifts power to staff and lobbyists who have many years of experience. Notwithstanding its special deal for incumbents, this measure's basic approach strikes the right balance between limiting length of service and providing enough time for legislators to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be effective. Now, if we just had campaign-finance reform as well, we might create a truly independent legislature.

We suggest a Yes vote on Prop 93.

Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 would reject gaming deals brokered between Gov. Schwarzenegger and four Southern California Indian tribes. The legislative analyst says the compacts would add to state revenue something under $200 million net each year in the next few years and generate revenues in the low- to mid-hundreds of millions until 2030. The four tribes could add up to 17,000 new slot machines to the current 60,000-plus machines statewide. Opponents say the revenue formula, which determines how much the state would get, could be easily manipulated by tribes, the additional slots represent a massive increase in gaming - equal to the capacity of more than a dozen major Las Vegas casinos - for only the "Big 4" tribes, and there are labor and environmental exemptions. Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, and the governor support the compacts. Among opponents are California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman; activist Dolores Huerta; Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the progressive and independent California Tax Reform Association; and the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization, an Indian civil rights group; and some other tribes. It's difficult to quantify the lost revenue that additional Indian gaming would divert from other businesses that, unlike Indian casinos, do pay state and local taxes, or to measure the human cost of increased problem gambling. A May 2006 report for the state attorney general estimated there were at that time close to a million problem gamblers in California. Indian gaming in California has already passed Las Vegas in revenue and is headed higher, which raises the bigger issue of the wisdom of ever increasing Indian gaming in our state. But on these propositions, we are inclined to agree with the doubters and believe the state could negotiate a better deal for all Californians.

We suggest a No vote on Props 94-97.