FRESNO -- Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso calls it “an essential piece of constitutional change” that benefits Latinos, whose population will surpass whites in the state next year.
Fred Ruiz — co-founder of Dinuba-based Ruiz Roods Inc., the largest Latino-owned manufacturing business in the state — has contributed $25,000 to the cause that has raised $4.2 million as of Oct. 14, far outpacing the $202,000 raised by opponents.
Latino-elected officials, from Los Ángeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to Salinas Union High School District trustee Phillip Tabera, endorse it.
It has the support of the American G.I. Forum, the William C. Velázquez Institute and Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, among other Latino organizations.
Yet, according to a recent Field Poll, only 21 percent of California likely voters support Proposition 31, while 40 percent of likely voters intend to vote no. Latinos account for 26.3 percent of all registered voters in California.
The massive initiative -- at almost 9,000 words, it is longer than the state constitution -- was crafted by California Forward as part of its mission to fundamentally change the way government operates.
If approved, Proposition 31 would do the following:
• Establish a two-year state budget cycle.
• Limit the state Legislature from creating spending programs of more than $25 million without offsetting spending cuts.
• Require performance reviews of all state programs.
• Mandate performance goals in state and local budgets.
• Require publication of bills at least three days before a legislative vote.
• Permit local governments to change how laws governing state-funded programs apply to them, unless the Legislature or state agency vetoes those changes within 60 days.
• Allows the governor to unilaterally cut the budget during declared fiscal emergencies if the Legislature fails to act.
Opponents — almost all state legislators and the Democratic Party — claim the measure will add more complexity to a legislative process that is “barely working right now.”
Reynoso, a “strong Democrat” and a California Forward board member, disagrees.
“31 is a good thing,” said Reynoso during a telephone interview this week. “The main reason I’m enthused about this is that when there are problems like the state budget, the ones who suffer the most are the poor and Latinos. Why? Because much of the budget is pre-prescribed on how it will be spent.”
That means that programs that provide health care, scholarships and other assistance get slashed first, said Reynoso.
“Even (Gov.) Brown has been cutting the daylights out of those programs, yet they are among the things that have made California a great state,” said Reynoso.
California’s growing Latino population has resulted in a record number of Latinos in the state Legislature (23 of 120 state lawmakers), but “we don’t have that much political power,” said Reynoso.
Proposition 31 will help solve that problem, he said.
Despite the Latino support and its financial advantage, Proposition 31 has failed to generate the type of media interest like Propositions 30 and 38 (increased taxes to support education), Proposition 32 (elimination of payroll deductions for political purposes), Proposition 34 (ends the death penalty), or Proposition 37 (labeling of food).
Reynoso said individual portions of Proposition 31 get up to 80 percent approval, and he admits bunching them together “becomes complicated.”
“But, this is what the measure calls for,” said Reynoso, who has contributed $2,000 to the measure and plans to donate another $1,000.
California initiatives, he said, are expensive.
“It would be impossible to do one little initiative after another,” said Reynoso. “If this doesn’t pass, I don’t know what we will do.”
Proposition 31, he said, doesn’t have something warm that voters can wrap their hands around, like saving education or protecting deer. But Reynoso hopes Latino support for the proposition can jell into a force for the future.
“There is not one single Latino group that is considered a player (in state politics),” said Reynoso, referring to the ability to “raise significant money for an initiative.”
Mike Herald, a founding member of the Health and Human Services Network of California, believes Proposition 31 puts a straitjacket on legislators.
“It will add a layer of complexity and disfunction to our state government,” said Herald. “We keep adding constitutional amendments on how we can raise and spend money.”
The measure to limit additional expenditures of $25 million, said Herald, could hurt Latinos if state lawmakers decide to provide educational opportunities for undocumented Californians.
“If that program costs more than $25 million, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Herald. “Under Proposition 31, how can we expand and meet the needs of our growing population?”
The local community action plans in the proposition, he said, would create a patchwork of rules and laws throughout the state.
“I want California to be a place where a foster kid in Fresno would have the same chance to compete as a foster kid in Marín County,” he said.
Víctor Avalos, a former journalist-turned-policy advocate from Arizona whose grandparents were farm workers, calls Proposition 31 a “game-changer” for Latinos.
“As Latinos, we have to be involved in efforts to reform state government because we have so much at stake,” said Avalos, who is working on the Proposition 31 campaign with California Forward.
The biggest challenge for Latinos is education, said Avalos. Proposition 31 will help change that.
“We need to invest more in education, but we also need to make sure that what we are investing in education is doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Avalos.
Avalos said the state’s education system is not “functioning that well because state government is not functioning that well.”
Proposition 31 will “address the symptom,” he said. “This is not a perfect measure, but it is an important first step.”
Latinos have to be involved in the conversations about state governance, he said.
“You don’t see a long line of Latinos lined up to tackle reform,” said Avalos. “It’s like Cruz Reynoso once said, ‘If you don’t do it, who will?’”
Juan Esparza Loera is the editor of Vida en el Valle, a bilingual weekly in Fresno. This story was produced through a governance-reporting fellowship of New America Media.
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