Only weeks after the state budget was signed the governor and legislative leaders are scheduled to meet today to determine whether to call a special legislative session to deal with – the budget, again! With the economy in a tail spin this budget is already out of balance by about $5-billion—if it ever were in balance in the first place when it was signed. Nobody believes it was. And huge future budget deficits are looming.
With a deficit hole and a deteriorating economy — and on top of all that a federal judge demanding money that the state doesn’t have be spent on prison medical facilities — what are the political leaders going to do?
Governor, I have a suggestion for you to help with California’s fiscal difficulties both now and in the long term. The idea is not original – in fact, I borrowed it from you. Blow Up the Boxes!
Your idea of reshaping government for the 21st century is more relevant now than ever. When you first came into office facing a massive state budget deficit you wisely suggested revamping the way government does business. Like any large organization, government needs a thorough cleaning now and again so it can accomplish its tasks more efficiently and more economically. You understood this and in your first year in office you ordered a complete review of government operations. The California Performance Review was created to examine how efficiently government carries out all its tasks and look for ways to make it run more effectively and less costly.
More than a few commentators noted the irony that our state government was wheezing and being subjected to a review by a committee with the monogram: CPR. State government was indeed in need of resuscitation. However, the recommendations for change made by the California Performance Review went nowhere as special interests fought hard to defend their turf.
Now California is faced with a budget balanced with smoke and mirrors, declining revenue and a brutalized economy. Returning to suggestions put forth by the California Performance Review could help offset some of this burden.
The CPR filled a number of telephone-sized books with recommendations to streamline government, reduce the number of boards and commissions, and save money. It’s not too difficult to find overlapping bureaucracy with scattered responsibilities. Consider that education has many masters: The Office of Education, the Secretary of Education, and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The Review was on point when it declared: “Like a recurring disease, the state’s budget woes will persist until dramatic fundamental changes are made.”
And that statement was made before the world wide economic meltdown.
Of course, other ideas will find their way on the agenda of any special session, including deeper budget cuts and tax increases. The CPR report noted these two solutions were usually on the table when governments faced budget problems. The report stated: “Too often, attempts to cut services are random and unfocused. Too often, they don’t last.” And: “The other tactic, raising taxes, doesn’t make sense today. The cardinal rule of medicine is: First, do no harm.”
Taking a fresh look at the CPR report is wise during this difficult time. Tough times offer opportunity for dramatic changes to alter the way we do the state’s business. Now is time to create a 21st model government. The authors of the California Performance Review estimated that over a five-year period if all the CPR recommendations were put in place the state would save $32-billion dollars, more than the projected deficits and revenue shortfalls.
Sequels may be important in your former career, governor, but no one wants to see more dramatic and agonizing budget shortfall play out. By using the CPR recommendations to solve problems we can do away with future sequels of budget woe.
The special session probably will be after the election and before new legislators are sworn in. Hopefully, termed out legislators will feel free to make hard choices and follow many of the CPR recommendations.