08/04/2011 by Loren Kaye
Viewpoints: For government and the people, the time is now
Two cheers to the Legislature and Governor for agreeing on an on-time budget that moved the state’s fiscal crisis off center stage for at least six months. No honest observer or participant will claim that the state’s finances are balanced over the long term, or that the structural revenue and spending trends and behaviors have been adequately addressed. But managing to close a daunting deficit with major spending cuts, minimal gimmicks and no tax increases is not nothing.
So what are the logical next steps for structural budget or governance reform that can achieve a more responsive, transparent and effective state government? In short – none. That’s right – the time for major structural reform has passed. The time for rolling-up-the-sleeves and delivering-for-the-people is now.
A brief survey of recent history reveals that “budget reform” and “political reform” have not only been attempted, but adopted or are awaiting adoption.
- Majority vote budget and trailer bills? Check.
- Tight definition of fees and taxes? Check.
- Protect local government revenues? Check.
- Rainy-day fund and smoothing spikes in state budget? Failed in 2009 but on 2012 ballot.
- Redistricting by independent commission? Check.
- Top-two primary finishers reach general election? Check.
The voters have granted plenty of reformers’ wishes – left, right and center. But our economy and California’s future cannot wait for more tinkering about the structure of state government. Now is the time for the Legislature and Governor – and the voters – to take the tools the people have provided and do the hard work of governing. To be sure, it’s easier to talk about “reforming the process” and bemoaning “structural impediments,” but that’s no longer an excuse for not governing – if it ever was.
There is no structural impediment to improving California as a place to invest and create jobs. There’s no constitutional impediment to streamlining permits, beefing up economic analysis of regulations, or tamping down on vexatious litigation.
No law or court decision blocks the Legislature from making physical infrastructure a public priority, either by raising fees or empowering public-private partnerships – or asking the people to provide long term financing for new public works.
Indeed, nothing stands between the Legislature and comprehensive and fair tax reform but the political will to do so. Sure, any tax increase would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. But does anyone think that in today’s environment of voter skepticism and interest group activism that anything less than broad political consensus would carry the day?
Nothing outside the control of elected leaders prevents education reform – insisting on accountable schools and teaching professionals, setting performance goals and benchmarks, and making schools about the children, not the adults.
California governance is not about changing the rules (unless you’re trying to stack the deck). It’s about political will and the fortitude to look your supporters in the eye and say, “no” or “not now” or, in the alternative, “we can’t wait any longer.” No more excuses; it’s time to deliver.
Loren Kaye is foundation president for the CA Chamber of Commerce
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog by our guest columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of California Forward or our Leadership Council.