With our national economy experiencing a meltdown, families are having a tough time keeping their heads above water financially and many businesses have been forced to close or downsize.

All of this has contributed to a doomsday budget scenario for California. In the short time since lawmakers and the Governor reached agreement on the bipartisan budget compromise in mid-September, the budget shortfall has grown by roughly $3 billion.

Lawmakers and the Governor have been working together in recent weeks to consider what steps we should take to address our growing budget problems. The Governor may soon convene a special session of the Legislature to take action.

In light of California’s budget challenges, Assembly Republicans will be fighting hard to protect working families from higher taxes and higher spending, while demanding that we pass the necessary reforms to fix our broken system and prevent future deficits.

Republicans will not support raising taxes on Californians, period. Raising taxes is the worst thing we could do right now for our economy and for working families. With so many having a tough time affording higher prices, rising mortgage bills and lack of credit, the last thing Californians want right now are higher taxes. Families should not be punished with higher taxes because lawmakers have spent too much for too long.

In the short term, Republicans will insist that lawmakers and the Governor take urgent and responsible steps to right our budget course to save California from bankruptcy.

At the top of the list must be suspending new programs the Legislature has passed in recent years. If we cannot afford the programs we already have on the books, then we certainly cannot afford any new programs.

We should also look to the fastest growing areas of state government for immediate and necessary budget savings, such as health and welfare programs. California’s health and welfare programs grew by more than 6 percent last year.

At the same time, we should consider creative ideas to generate new revenue – without raising taxes. Ideas like privatizing government assets like the state lottery and selling off surplus property like football stadiums are just plain common sense and should be embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Protecting education funding will continue to be an important priority for Republicans. We don’t believe one penny should be taken from the classroom because the state is facing budget problems.

But these steps will only help us in the short term. We must begin working immediately to balance next year’s budget. Lawmakers and the Governor simply cannot put off the difficult work and the tough choices until next June or July without triggering serious consequences

I hope Democrats and Republicans can begin serious budget discussions right away. We must commit ourselves to going through the budget line by line and taking steps to ensure state government programs are operating efficiently and effectively and with accountability to taxpayers. We must prioritize state spending to ensure our state’s most pressing needs – education, public safety and infrastructure – are fully funded.

And we must commit ourselves to passing the budget reforms needed to fix a broken system. No longer can we allow ourselves to be held hostage by a system that allows the Legislature to spend more than the state takes in each year, without planning for the future. Only by passing a strict spending limit can we truly stop the budget madness and help California live within its means again.

The budget challenges facing our state today are real and severe. But if we work together to set aside our differences and put Californians first, I am confident that we can get through these rough times and prevent future deficits from hurting Californians.