In the coming weeks, the California State Legislature will debate the details of Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal. With an $8.2 billion deficit in this year’s budget and an 18 month gap set at more than $25.4 billion the action must be swift. In past years, Sacramento has been unable to eliminate California’s sweeping deficits thanks to political gridlock in the form of a chronic addiction to irresponsible spending.
Thankfully, it looks like our Governor and the Legislature are beginning to plan for the future. I was encouraged to hear Governor Brown call for $1 billion to cover future windfalls. Sadly, our former Republican governor proposed many of these same ideas only to see them destroyed by partisan politics. If we had acted earlier on those solutions, we may not be in as deep a hole as we’re in today.
Time and time again, the people of California made it clear they wanted us to put our house in order. The deficit problems facing California are not Republican or Democrat. There is no longer room for sacred cows in our state’s ongoing fiscal crisis.
Also encouraging is the Governor’s picking up the efforts of Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and California Forward to move more state government functions back down to local governments. Moving delivery of services and the power over how to best do that closer to the people is always a good idea. However, in order to do it right, Sacramento must resist the temptation to send the mandate for providing the service without sending the funding source. Even less appealing would be to give the local governments new requirements based on tax increases, especially temporary tax increases that aren’t likely to be supported at the ballot box, if they even make it to the ballot.
The stark reality of the budget situation calls for reforms to the way we plan and provide oversight of budgets. This has to happen for two reasons: First, legislators have to get out of the constant “budget crisis mode”, and provide longer term planning. Second: we can’t afford to continue wasting so much money. Getting out of “budget crisis mode” and really delving into where and how the money is being spent will reduce waste and inefficiency.
Currently, two bipartisan bills that exemplify this new reality in the Legislature (SB 14- Wolk, DeSaulnier, Huff and SB 15- DeSaulnier & Wolk) are making their way through committees. In passing these bills the Legislature will finally act on performance-based budgeting and two-year budgeting solutions. Both reforms symbolize a shift towards planning for the future and are long overdue.
In my time as Senate Republican Leader, I had the pleasure of serving with leaders like Senator Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Pérez. We may not have agreed on everything, but we all knew the stakes for California. They have both expressed their desire to reform the public processes that have broken down over the last two decades.
As the Legislature considers the Governor’s budget in the coming months, I would urge lawmakers to make the process transparent and create opportunities for citizens throughout California to participate. Most importantly, the Legislature must get moving and make the real decisions on the budget now, in open committee with votes that matter to the outcome of the budget, not waiting for June or July and the Big Five to make the actual decisions.
I hope the Legislature can maintain this new sense of urgency. Sacramento must trim out the waste, find inefficiencies, and scale down the size of state government. Programs must be efficient so our leaders can fund those services our citizens need most – even in a time of fiscal crisis. We can’t afford to do anything less.
The task will not be easy. Reform leadership takes courage to make the tough decisions. No one wants to cut vital services to the people of California, but we must close the gaps in our budget and reform the way Sacramento does business. If we continue to make these mottos our action points, the people of California may have a chance to reclaim their once Golden State.
Dennis Hollingsworth served as Senate Republican Leader from 2009-2010. He represented the 36th District of California which consists of portions of San Diego and Riverside Counties.