This still from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is an unfortunate metaphor for our state’s fiscal health if we continue down the same path
As characters on the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones” famously quip, “winter is coming.”
It’s tempting to apply this sentiment to the new legislative session in California. Those in conservative circles lament the newly-awarded supermajority to the Democratic Party in Sacramento. Those on the left wonder if their party can effectively use this new power they have been granted to bypass partisan gridlock and make progress toward getting our state back on track.
Indeed, as citizens, sometimes we feel frozen; after so many years of steady decline no matter who we vote into power and no matter what initiatives we support at the ballot box, it feels as if our state is in the middle of a long fiscal winter comprable to that which the Stark family constantly fears.
A new nationwide survey of U.S. voters released earlier this month resoundingly indicates that people want to streamline government, making it less complex and more efficient as a path toward reducing our deficit.
“It’s hard to balance the budget when complex and obsolete laws prevent government from changing how it does things,” said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good, the nonpartisan government reform coalition that sponsored the survey.
“It’s time simplifying government becomes a national priority.”
In looking at the numbers, the support for such claims across the board is truly striking. Over 80 percent of those surveyed supported each of the the following statements:
- eliminate government programs with duplicate functions (93 percent)
- review all government regulations at least once every 10 years (92 percent)
- simplifying government regulations and structure should be national priority (85 percent)
The heavy lean toward radical simplification of the federal government can easily be applied to California. We are, afterall, staring down the barrel at a monumental deficit with further crisis narrowly averted on November 6 when Gov. Brown’s tax measure got the green light from voters.
But we simply avoided sinking deeper into the snow; the blizzard is still happening and unless we shovel a path out now, we risk getting buried.
California’s regulatory environment is notoriously labyrinthine, both in business and government. We have archaic legislation crafted during far different times that still govern how we collect taxes and how our elected officials can legislate.
Strides were taken at the ballot this year by enacting longer term limits for legislators and in other arenas when the Citizens Redistricting Commission was created (and backed by the state Supreme Court) and when Online Voter Registration was enacted.
But this progress still does not address some of the core issues facing our state today. Should we be taking a harder look at Prop 13? Does CEQA need a heavy dose of reform? How much more austerity can the state handle before safety net services collapse under the weight of a population that needs them now more than ever? How many more cuts can an education system already stripped to the bone take before our ability to populate our own skilled labor force is utterly decimated?
This notion of radical simplification that has captured the attention of those surveyed nationally has a home here in California as well. Now that a major partisan hurdle has been cleared away how will Democrats wield this newfound power? Will they use their mandate by way of their new supermajority to streamline or to convolute? To further their own agenda or that of their constituents?
In the opinion of those surveyed (and we tend to agree), taking the simplest approach and eliminating state programs that duplicate efforts and instituting a formal review process for regulations in the name streamlining our government and allowing it to operate more efficiently is a common sense approach to ensuring that winter doesn’t last longer than it has to.