The Folly of Propositional Democracy

California continues its essential role as the proving ground for bad ideas.  The latest is the demolition of “popular” initiatives to decide important issues.  Of the 11 initiatives on the ballot last November in the Golden State, 8 were funded primarily by multimillionaires, according to MapLight, which tracks election funding.

And Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s $6 billion tax-increase initiative, passed after public-sector unions, led by the California Teachers Association, spent $67 million on it.  The opposition spent $53 million, more than half of which came from GOP activist Charles Munger, Jr.  The initiative boosts California’s top income-tax rate from 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent, leapfrogging Hawaii’s 11 percent to become the most punitive of any state.

“California voters gained the power of ballot measures a century ago to break the grip of wealthy interests controlling government,” explained Daniel G. Newman, MapLight’s president and cofounder, on its website.  “Now, it’s largely rich individuals, wealthy companies, and unions that drive our money-dominated initiative system.”

In 1910, Republican Hiram Johnson won the governorship on a pledge to break the power held over state politics by the railroads, specifically the Southern Pacific Company.  Along with the Progressive Republicans who swept into...

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