By Harold V. Kane, Monroe Township
On Sunday, August 8 the Home News Tribune published a point-counterpoint between Assemblypersons Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). The topic was Citizen-Generated Laws, essentially Initiative and Referendum. Mr. O’Scanlon is a proponent and Ms. Weinberg is an opponent. Ms. Weinberg’s position is that the unwashed rabble will make changes to the government that the ruling political class will not like. Ms. Weinberg points to California and all of the problems caused by I&R.
The citizens of California made two monumental changes to their public sector and their elected officials. In 1978 they passed the famous Proposition 13 which limited property taxes to 1% of the most recent sale price. If a citizen was a World War II veteran, who passed through or was stationed in California and returned after the war and bought a house on the GI bill for $10,000, saw his property taxes drop from somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 to $100. If that veteran is still in that house, his property tax is still $100. Did this reduction in property taxes affect California’s public sector? Like you can’t believe!
Suddenly, municipalities and counties had their revenue substantially cut. California was forced to reduce expenditures across the board, jobs were cut, and other taxes were raised. But despite the whining by California’s public sector, the state survived and prospered as millions of dollars were now being spent by the citizens on goods and services or being saved in banks that could lend the money to fuel economic growth.
In the end Proposition 13 began an economic boom that was unparalleled in the history of the state.
In 1990 the citizens again decided to take action as they felt that the state legislature was more interested in their own careers, and special interests, rather than doing what was best for the state. This time Proposition 140 imposed term limits on the state legislature. Members of the California Assembly are limited to three two year terms and the California Senate to two four year terms. It is a lifetime limit. This is what Ms. Weinberg fears most, that the careerism that Democrats love so much, would end.
Ms. Weinberg says that California has made mistakes with I&R. Was it a mistake to abolish bi-lingual education (1998) and move public education to English-immersion?
In 2006 the California legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) that severely limits economic growth with the goal of preserving the environment. Some areas of the California central valley have unemployment rates approaching 40% due to this law. However, the citizens of California have seen the mistake made by the legislators and have a referendum scheduled for November 2 which suspends the Global Warming Solutions Act until unemployment is below 5.5% for four quarters. Based upon the current state of the economy it could be many years before the Global Warming Solutions Act is re-activated.
The citizens’ right to make public policy is as old as the colonies when town councils would convene with all of the citizens present. Some small, rural towns still do this. If a decision made by a town turned out to be not correct, then the town would reconvene and make appropriate changes. I&R is a town meeting on a macro scale.
Mr. O’Scanlon is correct. I&R is needed in New Jersey. Ms. Weinberg appears to be afraid of democracy. The American experiment in democracy can be a messy business at times. However, no one has developed a better system than we have. I&R will make our New Jersey democracy that much better.
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