The state of California is all but bankrupt – yet professional activists have figured out a way to send us even further into hock, with a costly food-labeling proposition that will appear on the ballot this November.

They want tens of thousands of common grocery-store items to carry special labels that indicate biotech ingredients.

The referendum may sound reasonable on the surface, but it’s really a big mistake. The labels would be an unnecessary waste of money, forcing Sacramento to scramble for new funds from sources nobody has identified and raising the price of everyone’s food bills. And it wouldn’t even improve food safety.

Late last month, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers approved a $91 billion budget for California. It’s full of “risky assumptions,” as the headline of a Los Angeles Times news article put it on July 2. CalWatchdog, a Sacramento-based website, called it “a bogus budget using anticipated revenue from passage of hefty new taxes.”

The budget assumes that voters will approve a tax-hike initiative this November, raising the sales tax by a one-quarter of a cent and the income tax on top earners. If they don’t, public universities will lose hundreds of millions of dollars and law-enforcement agencies will lose tens of millions.

I don’t know if voters will choose to hike taxes or cut spending, but I’m certain of one thing: California is not in the financial position to take on a major new expense.

That’s precisely what the labeling initiative would be. Suddenly, the state would have to monitor the content of everybody’s food, just to make sure that the correct labels appeared on the right packages. Hiring a small army of bureaucrats to oversee proper enforcement would cost untold millions.

So would the lawsuits. Here’s what the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office says about the fiscal impact of the initiative: “Unknown, but potentially significant, costs for the courts, the Attorney General, and district attorneys due to litigation resulting from possible violations to the provisions of this measure.”

Everybody wants to eat safe food, of course. If we have to pay a little extra, then so be it.

This takes smart regulations. The labeling proposition, however, would create a set of pointless ones.

We eat food with biotech ingredients every day. The vast majority of America’s corn and soybean crops are genetically modified to fight weeds and pests. Hawaii wouldn’t have a papaya industry but for a biotech innovation that allows papaya trees to resist the deadly ringspot virus.