Friday, October 4, 2002
IN MY OPINION (Column)
A Government Without Limits
By RAY HAYNES
(The writer represents the 36th Senate District, which includes western Riverside County and northern San Diego County. He is also the Senate Republican whip.)
Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but I always thought the Constitution was supposed to mean something. It’s a high school civics thing, I guess, from a time when the schools actually taught real civics in high school. I remember being told this country (and this state) had a government of laws and limits. We were not governed by “the rule of man,” but by a Constitution that limited the power of government. People have fought and died for that principle, and, while it may sound trite, I have to say I agree with the principle.
In fact, I promised the people of the state of California that I would “uphold the Constitution of the United States, and the State of California” and defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. Another trite thing I do is to use all my power and persuasion to keep all the promises I make (it is also the reason I don’t make many promises).
All these things came into my brain in the last days of session when the California State Senate took up AB 1105. AB 1105 would have given the California Director of Finance the authority to triple your car tax, without further vote of the Legislature. No other law, no other vote, just a determination by the Director of Finance that the state “needed the money” to pay counties for certain programs. The lawyer for the Legislature, hired by the Democrats, rendered an opinion claiming that this bill “had no fiscal impact” and required only a majority vote to pass the Legislature.
This is odd, because the bill would have, at a minimum, put $4 billion more in the state’s coffers (of course, for my liberal colleagues, this is no fiscal impact, because it is just not enough for their grandiose plans for using government to change society). Worse than that, the California Constitution, in Article 13A, Section 3 says “any changes in State taxes enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues ... must be imposed by not less than two-thirds of all the members” of the Legislature.
So how did the Senate Democrats justify a majority vote on increasing the sales tax? They didn’t. They just ignored the Constitution. They said a court will sort it out later.
That, quite frankly, is a dangerous approach to governing. The court, in any system, is the remedy of last resort. A legislative body that abuses its power by failing to follow the Constitution will also abuse its power over the courts to push its agenda. The Legislature pays the court’s budget. It can withhold that payment. Willie Brown actually threatened to do just that when the Supreme Court approved term limits. The current Supreme Court, on more than one occasion, has given the appearance of succumbing to threats by the Legislature over its power. The abuse can, and will, happen if the Legislature doesn’t care about the Constitution.
And the current Senate majority, made up of Democrats, demonstrated its lack of concern over the limits on its power. It broke the rules. If the Assembly Republicans had not held their ground, it would have been sent to the governor. That is a dangerous thing to consider. When the election is over, and the legislature sits down to deal with the horrendous deficit we have created by passing this budget, don’t be surprised if they bring it up again.
We have a government of limits. We are losing that government because those in charge don’t respect those limits. There really is only one remedy for that kind of blatant disregard for the rules, but thus far, California voters have not made those who violate the rules pay for that violation. It is a dangerous road on which we are traveling. Just how far are we as a state willing to let those who are in charge go before we change them?
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company