Saturday, Dec 31 2011 11:00 PM

OUR VIEW: Too many choices could hamstring state reforms

By The Bakersfield Californian

Californian voters eager to weigh in on pension reform, budget stability and adequate funding for education could have a bevy of options awaiting them at the polls in 2012.

Two pension reform initiatives, both proposed by one organization, are competing with reforms proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. And various other groups have proposed as many as seven initiatives that would increase taxes to fund schools and assorted other programs.

Among the tax initiatives already filed are one, authored by the governor's office, designed to generate $7 billion by way of a one-half percent hike on the sales tax and increased incomes taxes on the wealthy. Another, a proposal by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, would raise $10 billion for schools by raising income taxes. A third, drawn up by the Think Long Committee, would raise $10 billion by expanding sales tax to include services. And a fourth, from the California Federation of Teachers, would increase taxes on the state's wealthiest in order to raise $6 billion. The others would raise revenue by way of an oil severance tax, changes to the commercial property tax and the manner in which some companies are taxed.

It's one thing to see individuals and organizations circulating ideas intended to help fix California's budgetary problems, but quite another to analyze and parse such an onslaught. Putting so many options in front of voters is a sure recipe for failure. It's happened in the past -- too many competing proposals almost ensures that they'll all to go down in flames. California too desperately needs budgetary reform to risk that happening.

In order to responsibly choose among the various proposals, voters must discern the finer details of each, understanding their strengths, weaknesses and overall fiscal impact. For example, increased pension costs is the last thing California needs -- but it might be what we get if one initiative wins voters' approval, according to a recent Legislative Analyst's Office study of proposed pension reform measures produced by the California Pension Reform group.

The factions that have proposed these various initiatives could do voters a favor by coming together to agree on a single set of reforms that can move the state forward on each issue -- one measure for tax reform, one for pension reform.

Compromise may result in scaled-back reforms rather than sweeping changes. But small, effective steps are better than none at all, which is what Californians could well be left with if all these initiatives move forward on their own. Brown is the one best suited to take the lead and work with these groups on developing a unified approach.

But time is running short. If 2012 is to yield solutions to California's perennial budget crises, the well-intentioned civic minds behind these proposals will need to work together quickly to develop equitable plans that are palatable to voters.

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