LOS ANGELES -- A California commission charged with revamping the state constitution will hold its first meeting in the Los Angeles area this month to help resolve the strained relationship between the state and local governments.
The new California Constitution Revision Commission, which has met five times in Sacramento since April, will focus entirely on state and local finance issues at its Nov. 18 meeting at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach.
Commission chairman Bill Hauck said local and state financial issues are being dealt with first because the members have "some ability to agree" on these topics.
Other issues, including a number of voter-approved constitutional amendments, are expected to be hotly debated, and the 23-member commission may not be able to reach a consensus, Hauck said.
"There isn't any agreement yet" on state and local finance disputes, said Hauck, a former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson. "But I hope we can come to some agreement in the area of permitting local governments to raise more revenue locally."
The state legislature created the bipartisan commission last year to jumpstart a governmental system that is unresponsive, unaccountable, and suffering from gridlock, according to the enabling legislation sponsored by state Sen. Lucy Killea, I-San Diego.
Many state officials believe these internal problems have resulted in crippling economic setbacks, including an increasing debt burden and lower credit ratings on Wall Street.
In the arena of state and local finance, Hauck said he would like to recommend various measures to raise local revenues through special taxing districts.
Such a plan may include a simplification of voter-approval requirements, he said. Some tax proposals require a two-thirds majority vote, while other assessments need only gain a majority vote.
"It's very confusing," said Hauck. "I hope we can straighten that out."
The commission will propose broad revisions to the state constitution, eventually touching on such controversial voter-approved initiatives as Proposition 13, which cut property tax revenues in half; Proposition 98, which reserved 40% of the state's general fund budget for schools; and Proposition 4, which limited the amount of money the state can spend.
Because these issues have polarized so many Californians, commission members are not expected to reach unanimous conclusions, said Steve Olsen, deputy director of the state finance department and interim director of the commission.
"The commission is still at a stage in which they are trying to find their voice on these issues," Olsen said. "It could be that they won't find one voice .... They may emerge with majority and minority views."
At the commissioners' request, Olsen wrote a brief problem statement outlining the conflicts between local and state governments.
The draft document states that the governmental system has become "dysfunctional," and that the constitutional limits on local and state control have made it difficult for governments to respond to the needs of the people.
Last year, local governments were incensed by the state legislature's decision to take away $2.6 billion in local property tax revenues to meet a constitutional mandate on education spending. State officials, however, say the money never belonged to local governments in the first place.
By Aug. 1 of next year, the commission is expected to submit a report to the governor and legislature with the recommended changes to the constitution.
Each proposed amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to be placed on the 1996 primary or general election ballot. Constitutional amendments may be approved by a simple majority vote of the people.
While local and state officials disagree on many subjects, the one item they both seem to support is the idea of constitutional revision.
"Radical changes are going to be needed in the next century," said Revan Tranter, executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments. "I think the goals here are good ones."