Sunday, October 11, 2009

California Chief Justice Rips State's Initiative Process

First it was Bill Gross, and then came Ronald George.

Neither name is a household word, but they do have a cachet in certain circles.

Gross is head of a $178 billion bond fund (Pimco Total Return) based in Southern California. George(see photo) is chief justice of the California State Supreme Court.

What they have in common this month is their public scorn for the state's ballot initiative process, the method used to create CIRM and which lies at the root of the some of the problems that regularly trouble the California stem cell research agency.

George's remarks surfaced during the weekend in both the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee, among other news outlets. His comments followed an earlier blast by Gross that the government of the Golden State has been “perverted” with many of its financial difficulties stemming from ballot initiatives.

In the case of Ronald George, Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times described his comments as a “rare public rebuke of state government and policies delivered by a sitting judge.” She said George “scathingly criticized” the initiative process, declaring that it has “rendered our state government dysfunctional.”

George noted that ballot initiatives not only foul up California's budget but tinker with how barnyard creatures are managed. Steinhauer wrote:
“The state is unusual, he said, because it prohibits its Legislature from amending or repealing many types of laws without voter approval, essentially hamstringing that body — and the executive branch.”
The chief justice could have added that CIRM has fallen prey to the same problem. Prop. 71, the ballot initiative that created the agency in 2004, has handcuffed the $3 billion California stem cell agency in dealing with the problems created by its ill-conceived, super-majority quorum requirements as well a redundant limitation on the size of CIRM staff.

Legally, the number of CIRM employees cannot exceed 50, probably about the number of persons needed to run a 24-7 Burger King. That amounts to one CIRM employee to deal with every $20 million in grants expected to be approved by the end of this year. That doesn't count another $2 billion to be awarded in the next five to 10 years.

George noted that ballot measures – originally intended to empower the people – have become tools of special interests. Last year, the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, documented the range of problems in a 402-page study calling for changes in ballot initiatives. It said that Prop. 71, which established CIRM, is an example of an initiative sponsored by “wealthy elites.”

The timing of George's speech and its handling by his representatives seems interesting as well. The speech was delivered Saturday in Cambridge, Mass., to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. But advance copies were placed in the hands of reporters at the Los Angeles and New York Times and The Bee in sufficient time for stories to be written and published before it was actually delivered.

It is undoubtedly no coincidence that the placement occurred just before hundreds of persons convene this week in Sacramento for a conference on state constitutional reform, which is what it will take to correct the abuses in the ballot initiative process. Sphere: Related Content

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