Californians want trustworthy solutions
March 4, 2011 by Bob Hertzberg & Tom McKernan
California once again is struggling with how to cure a large budget deficit. The borrowing and the accounting gimmicks used in previous years are no longer an option.
Temporary tax increases begun in 2009 are now starting to expire yet there still exists a major budget deficit. Governor Brown has put forth a plan that includes budget cuts and tax extensions as well as restructuring government services to improve public programs. The political solutions have ranged from solving the crisis only with tax increases or only with budget cuts. The middle ground seems to be a 50-50 mix of cuts and taxes — a good compromise.
Many activities are underway by legislators — Republicans and Democrats — to think about ways to lessen the impact of the cuts as well as improving the economic and regulatory environment to spur job growth and state revenue. Those discussions should be encouraged by anyone concerned about the state's future.
A new Senate Committee was formed to focus on the restructuring of government service. Senator Lois Wolk, D–Davis and Senator Bob Huff, R–Diamond Bar have been holding hearings on the potential for reducing administrative costs and improving outcomes in government services.
As the Governor and lawmakers get closer to the deadline, it is essential for them to remember the other party to these negotiations – the people of California.
All of the polling, regardless of the sponsor, shows a growing consensus among Californians – Democrats, Republicans and independents – that they think government wastes a lot of their money. The same polls show that voters are far more likely to support temporary tax extensions if reforms are put in place to make sure their tax money is well spent. From their perspective, performance-oriented budget reforms are the next right step in the path forward.
The public’s wisdom matches the best practices in other states, and that is why California Forward developed and has advocated for budget reforms that would systematically encourage lawmakers to focus on the long-term performance of public programs and not short-term expedient actions that don’t fix the structural problem.
The public view is particularly important here because the Governor is sticking firm to a campaign pledge not to raise taxes – or even to extend temporary tax increases – without a vote of the people.
We believe the best way to win support is to address Californians’ concern that whatever is done will fix the problem and put California on a road back to prosperity. If those kinds of reforms were on the ballot, we’d fully support them.
California Forward is a non-partisan group formed by a grant from 5 of the leading foundations in the state to work toward government reform and best practices that will help get the state on a firmer footing with finances and put more focus on long-term needs to regain the California dream.
Some of the many reforms that would move in this direction are performance-based budgeting, longer-term budget – 2 years to help lessen volatility as well as moving some government services and control to the local level.
Based on the polling, Californians are more likely to support a compromise plan of cuts and tax extensions if reforms such as these are included when they are asked to vote.