Outsource the budget process already!

Public Affairs Consultant specializing in Issue Advocacy and Strategic Communications

Once again, it’s August and state lawmakers haven’t adopted a new budget yet. It’s time to talk about outsourcing.

Like many of the redistricting reforms floated over the years, I propose that, if the budget has not been adopted by the July 1 constitutional deadline, a panel of financial experts be appointed by the CA Supreme Court to draft the state’s spending plan for the next fiscal year and let the voters text their votes in like millions do on “American Idol” until a majority have approved the budget. (OK, maybe not text messaging).

Although there is plenty of blame to go around (including we voters who have committed the sins of ballot box budgeting), I am not pointing fingers at anybody. Term limits are not the culprit as budget approval deadlines were regularly missed before Prop. 140 passed. I don’t blame anyone in particular either.

Instead, I think that the process to enact budgets as well as the partisan grandstanding makes it impossible to adopt reasonable spending plans that pay at least some attention to future years. Based on my experience working for the Legislature in a previous life, I don’t think most legislators have carefully reviewed the budgets before they vote on them. Overdue budgets tend to be voted on within hours of the Big 5 reaching a compromise so that lawmakers can either get on with their family vacations or move back to the end of the legislative session.

Furthermore, unlike municipalities having their budget negotiations in public, state budget talks are conducted in private. Except for leaks from a few staff members close to the negotiations, none of us really know what exactly they are talking about and what kind of horse trading is going on.

I’d like to see more discussion in Sacramento about whether the budget negotiations should be outsourced. At a minimum, the Big 5 should seriously consider bringing in either federal mediators or marriage counselors to help them resolve their differences. In fact, I’ll pay for the counseling if I get to watch.

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