Thursday, February 19, 2009

No celebration for Sactown

Everyone please put away your Congrats posters and stop patting yourselves on the back. The budget California just passed after more than 5 days of being locked inside a room is mediocre at best, and pointless at worst. No one has faced the fact that California’s budgeting system is terribly flawed, and will continue to be so for the following reasons:

1. The majority of Californians don’t care. Yes, it’s a pain when the DMV is not open on Saturday or if I won’t get my $32 tax refund, but for the most part the budget not being passed had little effect on most state residents. The people that do care: counties, cities, state workers, and state politicians’ families don’t make up a large enough percentage of the population to really make this a priority.

2. The right and left in California never have to agree on anything except for taxes and the budget. I’ve written about this before, but this is the one time when Reps can really stick it to the Dems for rolling over them the rest of the year with a simple majority. What generally happens, is a refusal to compromise at any cost, and the few that do cross the party line cut themselves a nice deal in exchange for alienation from their party. There needs to be a change in the 2/3 majority vote for the budget and tax increases.

3. Californians want everything for nothing. No one wants to give up any of their current funding, but no one wants to increase taxes. And this happens every year, not just when the economy is in recession. For 16 of the past 18 years, California has run a structural deficit, which means even when the economy is good we’ve spent more than we’ve taken in and covered that gap with moving money around on the books and/or borrowing. Except this year, with a $41 billion gap and the lowest bond rating in the nation, the politicians were forced to come up with a solution.

4. Even the politicians have little incentive to make it work. The voters want term limits to prevent lazy voters from sending the same inefficient officials back to Sacramento year after year. As a result, we have politicians who need to find their next gig after their term is up and spend the majority of their time in office raising funds for their next election, fixing long-term problems with short-term solutions and burning bridges at every turn, because they won’t be in office long enough to care. I know expecting the voter to care about who they choose to represent them is asking a lot, but this automatic system of accountability has not improved the quality of public policy or reduce the amount of corruption.

Read the following 3 opinions by some very smart individuals about other reasons why we’re in a budgetary mess. They include the hyper-partisan nature of our State officials, and the ballot initiative process, which allows the same voter who is too lazy to vote out ineffective politicians to make changes to our State Constitution and determine where to spend money with only a 50% majority. Today is the type of day I wish I could avoid reading the news and spend my time blissfully enjoying TMZ and other gossipy websites. Who is Jennifer Aniston dating these days?

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