In the partnership between state and county governments that underwrites California’s elections every two years, one of the partners has racked up a sizable IOU. Yes, it’s the state. And the running tab is almost $76 million. Whether that tab gets paid off, or keeps growing, is an open question. In the meantime, the unpaid bill means local officials can legally refuse to follow a half-dozen election laws. Small ones? Hardly. They could refuse to provide absentee ballots to anyone who wants one. Or perhaps even more provocative in the current election-integrity climate, they could refuse to use long-standing legal rules when asked to verify a voter’s signature on a provisional ballot. No money, no mandated services.
“We will obviously need to deal with that funding issue — or not — soon,” state Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside) said in a hearing last week in Sacramento.
Roth’s hedge on the money is a reflection of the fact that budget negotiations have yet to begin. Tax revenues won’t be divvied up until June.
Election rules are only a fraction of the mandates that state officials impose on local governments. Historically, the state had to pay the costs of carrying out those directives. But bleak California budget times sparked a 2004 ballot measure, proposed by lawmakers and approved by voters, allowing Sacramento to skip paying for a state mandate as long as the locals are allowed to opt out of enforcement.