By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

That ancient philosophical – or would it be biological? – question has a political counterpart in California, to wit:

Did California’s Legislature become dysfunctional because voters adopted too many contradictory ballot measures, or were those ballot measures merely responding to the chronic inability or unwillingness of the Legislature to deal with substantial issues?

Countless academic conferences, newspaper op-ed essays and even books have been devoted to answering, or attempting to answer, the question ever since ballot measures became the central method of policymaking in 1978.

There’s little question that Proposition 13, whatever its merits or deficiencies, was a reaction to the Legislature’s failure to deal with rapidly increasing property taxes during the 1970s.

Legislators and then-Gov. Jerry Brown became engaged only after the measure had been qualified for the ballot, offering a too-little, too-late alternative that voters rejected.

Since then, hundreds of initiatives have been proposed, dozens have been placed before voters and a fair number have won.

Those on the right have used the initiative, but so have those on the left, although the former have been a bit more successful.

This year, the state Democratic Party declared war on the initiative, arguing that it had become an oppressive tool of special (meaning conservative) interests, and its legislators introduced a flock of measures to make going to the ballot more difficult.

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