California Finance Mess

The California state budget mess is clearly the shared responsibility of the Governor, the Legislature, and the voters who elected them. The recall of the former Governor, Gray Davis, now seems to have been just a childish tantrum. The current Governor has presided over a steady worsening of the problem. The Legislature seems so divided along ideological lines that compromises to both cut programs and increase revenues cannot be made. We, the voters, elected these folks from districts that are so gerrymandered that “moderates” who are not religiously adherent to their conservative or liberal principles are in critically short supply. So, the good guys and bad guys (from anyone’s point of view) just snarl at each other and the whole state suffers.

Here are some suggestions. If the Legislature does not pass and the Governor does not sign a balanced budget by the Constitutionally required deadline in any year, their pay will be cut off until they do and it will not be restored for the time that the State was left in Limbo. A harsher penalty would be that every member of the Legislature and the sitting Governor who committed such malfeasance would be Constitutionally forbidden to run for re-election, basically fired for not doing their jobs
We desperately need redistricting to make elections more competitive and make candidates have to appeal to a broader cross-section of political philosophies. This should be done by a panel of retired judges who should be as apolitical as possible. The Legislature would have to approve the redistricting on a single up or down vote with no amendments or fiddling of any kind.

If we make cuts in services to save money, the care of the mentally incompetent, the sick, and children should be the last cuts made, not the first. Similarly, support for education in the State University system and the University of California should be preserved as long as possible. If cuts have to be made in University and State college funding, they should be made first in the football and basketball programs. These programs are mostly for entertainment. The athletes in these programs would often not get into the school at all if academic standards were not specifically lowered just to let them in. Their graduation rates compared to the graduation rates of other students in the same school reflect their relative interest in the educational mission of the school. If UCLA keeps losing to USC in football because of such cuts, that’s a price I am reluctantly willing to pay. I don’t really think that such cuts are likely, but if they were proposed the population would rise up and vote to increase funding for the universities. We know that they would not similarly rise up to save programs such as art, music, literature, or science. This suggestion comes from an actual case when then Mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto, proposed exactly such cuts when the citizens voted down some badly needed school bonds. When he proposed to cut football out of San Francisco high schools, the citizens rose up as one, had a special election, and passed the school bonds. Remember, he had to do this to get the attention of San Francisco liberals, not Orange County conservatives.

Lastly, we need to get rid of our term limits laws. They have not served us well. Believe it or not, there are some good legislators and, as they gain in experience, they get better. Term limits were originally passed to give the minority party the opportunity to gain more seats by running against newcomers rather than entrenched incumbents. The quality of our government has not benefited. The experiment has failed.

Oh, and a last thought. Proposition 13 has been a disaster. Repeal it.