Gov. Brown’s budget and a path forward

150 150 Bob Hertzberg & Tom McKernan

Cross-posted on Capitol Weekly.

Most new governors enjoy a grace period when the public and Legislature give them the time – and support – to do what they promised. We hope that’s true for Governor Brown, because his budget, as tough as it is, may provide a bi-partisan way forward for California – something we at California Forward have been focused on for several years.

From our beginnings, California Forward has encouraged ways to improve governance and bring about changes that restore the public’s trust. Redistricting reform and open primaries hold the promise of restoring the Legislature’s ability to solve problems. The Governor is right to say that now is the time to make the difficult choices necessary to bring us back to fiscal health. “It’s not going to get better unless we do something,” the Governor said when unveiling his plan. We agree.

But it won’t be easy. We’ve tried some of these ideas before, and frankly, last year, the legislature rejected them. But, like the new Governor, we are willing to start anew to convince legislators this has to get done now because the public is already there. They want solutions that don’t tilt left or right. They demand that government be more responsive, open and worthy of our trust. A tough budget that means nearly everyone will feel the pain of change.

Beyond the effort to balance the budget, we must do more. The good news for us is that the Governor’s plan would move significant government responsibilities back to local communities. California Forward believes this must be a central part of the overall solution. We call it Smart Government and that’s more than just a slogan. To bring about the real change the public can believe in, rather than micromanaging from the capitol, the state needs to help communities improve outcomes by providing stable and dedicated funding streams, establishing outcome standards, and encouraging all communities to improve results.

We all rely on government to provide essential services, and elected officials have a fundamental obligation to make sure programs work well. To improve outcomes in education, social services, criminal justice, and other programs, local leaders responsible for delivering those services need the authority and the resources to get the job done, so Californians – as citizens and voters – can hold them accountable for results.

The Governor’s budget plan proposes credible ways for moving government closer to the people. But that won’t be easy and if it fails, California Forward, in conjunction with the new “Think Long” committee has the will – and now the funding – to push our ideas forward. Smart Government will provide good government if the politicians have the will to embrace it. If they don’t it must be taken directly to the voters.

In addition to empowering local governments, any credible “workout” budget must also include fiscal reforms that will increase transparency and accountability – and help restore public confidence:

  • Requiring a multiyear budgeting system to make sure the budget is really balanced
  • Budgeting for results to ensure quality services and restore the confidence of citizens that their money is well spent
  • Making sure all new programs and tax breaks have an identified funding source
  • Making sure that “one time revenue” is used for “one time” purposes, such as saving for hard times or paying down debt.

These reforms are common sense. Californians, when balancing their own checkbooks, must make sure they get what they pay for, try not to spend what they don’t have, and save for emergencies. Government must do the same.

Californians want a path forward – one right step after another. We need to stop the bleeding and start the healing, make government work again, and support economic recovery so families can pay their bills and keep their homes. This winter, the Governor and Legislature can do this by (1) agreeing on an honestly balanced and well-spent budget; (2) enacting key budget reforms; (3) and making government work again by moving it closer to the people.

The common theme of the California dream is: A good education leads to a good job and a satisfying life in this special place on Earth. Over the last generation, California’s dysfunctional system of governance has eroded our ability to solve problems, meet public challenges, and thrive in a competitive and technology-driven global marketplace. If lawmakers truly balance the budget and focus on the reforms needed, we believe California could become the new model for prosperity and problem-solving – supporting a vibrant economy, equitable opportunities, and environmental sustainability. In short, passing a fiscally responsible budget – including key reforms and moving government closer to the people – means that together we can begin, once again, to move California forward.


Bob Hertzberg & Tom McKernan

All stories by: Bob Hertzberg & Tom McKernan