Time to Share, Senator Feinstein

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said recently that she won’t decide whether to run for governor until she sees what the current candidates plan to do with the state budget.

Fine. Budget plans are important. She should start with hers.

When asked recently by an Associated Press reporter whether she was thinking about big-footing her way into next year’s governor’s race, California’s senior senator said, in effect, “Maybe.”

First, though, she wants to see what plans the existing pack of candidates have to deal with the state’s ongoing budget woes and determine how committed they are to making the changes that are needed.

“California is in considerable distress and there have to be reforms,’’ she said.

The unstated addendum was that if Feinstein doesn’t think Poizner, Campbell, Whitman, Brown and anyone else dropping into the race is capable of getting the job done, she’d just be forced to return to California and take over the reins to save the state.

Since the senator seems so confident she can pick up the banner of budget reform if none of the current gubernatorial wannabes prove worthy, she gets to go first.

California is looking at a budget that could be $15 billion out of balance by June 30 and facing another round of either desperately deep program cuts or new tax increases. If Feinstein’s got a plan to deal with that, now’s the time to hear it. If she’s got a secret scheme to convince the Legislature’s Democrats and Republicans that Californians are more interested in results than in partisan rhetoric and foot stomping, lay it out.

It’s easy for Feinstein to sit 3,000 miles away in Washington, well away from the ever-raucous, but usually informative give-and-take of a statewide campaign, and propose to stand in judgment over everyone else’s budget reform plans.

But if the senator is setting herself up as the one person qualified to decide what will work in the upcoming budget wars, it stands to reason that she must have a good idea of what needs to be done and how to make it happen.

Time to share, senator.

Feinstein does make one essential point. Fixing the state budget absolutely has to be Job One for the next governor and anyone running for the office must be willing to say exactly how he or she proposes to do that.

Voters have to insist on a real plan with real numbers, not some nebulous proposal calling for saving billions by “cutting the fat from government” and adding billions by counting on taxes that may never get passed or new revenue that may never appear.

Each candidate also needs to tell voters just how they intend to push that plan through the partisan swamp of the Legislature. The greatest budget reform proposal ever written isn’t worth a damn if it can’t get passed.

The state’s in deep financial trouble right now and the 2010-11 budget will be locked into place by mid-December. So every candidate for governor – including the officially unofficial one in the attorney general’s office – should be out front telling voters – and the Legislature — what California needs to do this very instant to stop the bleeding.

The state’s fiscal health shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But if someone’s got an answer that really works, they could find themselves hiring movers come next November.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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