Once again with the California State Legislature and Governor
Schwarzenegger failing to uphold their promises, their duty and the
law, the nation’s largest, most important and most poorly run state
is operating without a budget. The law requires the Governor’s
signature on an approved budget no later than July 1. For the
sixteenth time in the past twenty years, Sacramento has missed the
deadline. With no agreement in site, maybe we’ll beat the 2002-2003
record of no new budget until September 5.
In the meantime, while ineffective and petty politicians play around
with our money, California’s credit rating drops, vendors go unpaid,
and state government is unable to effectively plan because they don’t
know what their budgets will be. Private businesses and residents
hold their breath to see which programs are cut, which loopholes are
closed, which taxes are raised, how much money is borrowed, and how
many creative ways can we mortgage our kids future against our failures.
The Pew Center on the States recently awarded California a D+ on
fiscal management. As we watch Sacramento flounder, again unable and
unwilling to carry out its responsibilities, one has to wonder if
this is a generous rating. Some want to blame our failures on the
size of the state. While we are the largest, other large states
(Pennsylvania: B, Florida: B, even New York: C+) do a better job.
Many will point out, fairly, the initiatives we’ve passed that tie
the hands of the Legislature. Others want to blame our ridiculous
requirement of a two-thirds majority for the Legislature to pass the
budget. We proudly join Arkansas and Rhode Island as the only three
states with this requirement.
While these are all contributing factors, the real culprit is
politics. Partisan politics (both parties are equally at fault)
combined with amazingly powerful special interests virtually ensure
budget paralysis. I propose a simple three-point program that will
motivate Sacramento to have a budget in place, on time, every year.
If Sacramento misses the July 1 budget deadline, the following
sanctions start on July 2 and continue until we have a signed budget:
1. The salaries for all California state legislators, the governor
and their respective staffs are frozen – never to be recovered. If
we don’t have a budget, the people responsible for putting it in
place don’t get paid. There is no retroactive pay, no per diem, no
money. You want to get paid? We want a budget.
2. No Sacramento politician can accept any campaign contributions.
The law has to be written so that no money changes hands between
special interests and politicians, or their shell organizations and
groups. Again, you want to influence politicians through campaign
contributions? Push them to approve a budget.
3. All lobbyists and special interests are banned from any
communication with legislators, the governor or their staffs. They
can keep running ads in newspapers, radio and T.V. They can work
around the clock up until midnight July 1, but starting at 12:01 AM
July 2, they are forbidden from direct (in-person, phone, text, mail,
etc) contact with those responsible for the budget.
While we would all like to believe that our elected officials and
their staffs are motivated by their constituents’ best interests, it
is clear to all of us that they are motivated by power and money.
Restrict the power, eliminate the money, and the motivation to act
We need draconian penalties for violations of these rules. Our
elected officials’ actions clearly show they do not care about the
problems they create for us by delaying the budget. The only way to
get their attention is to make it very painful for them when they do
not do their job (just like what happens to those of us in the real
world). They are certainly not motivated by professional
responsibility or the law, but I promise the moment their salaries
and campaign contributions dry up, we will have their attention and
more importantly – a budget.