The topic of conversation, lately, no matter who you’re talking to, seems to revolve around California’s budget nightmare and the trickle-down effect it has, starting from the top, the state, to the bottom, with municipalities.

How did we get here and what drastic measures need to be taken in order to get our Golden State back on track?

Those were some of the issues addressed during an event at the California State University of Sacramento. California Forward, along with the Sacramento State Alumni Association and CSAC, sponsored a program titled “What’s Possible: New Ideas for our Fiscal Path Forward.”

The audience included about 150 people from the capitol as well as people from the Public Policy School at the college. Featured speakers included Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento; Dr. Mary Kirlin, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Sac. State; Dr. Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project and Scott Pattison, Executive Director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The discussion, moderated by John Myers, Political Editor for Channel 10 KXTV News, focused on how innovations in fiscal practices at the state and local levels can make a difference in our collective fiscal health.

Although we often view our state as the fountain of innovation, we learned, from the panelists and participants, that California sits on the sidelines when it comes to fiscal innovation.

The panel of experts believes states that have developed budget making innovations over the last 10 years have fared better than those who have remained stuck in their practices.

States that have systems for dealing with volatile revenue, focus on program performance and have greater flexibility in budgeting, tend to make their way through difficult economic periods than those that do not. Most of the innovation found in states has focused on internal organization and consolidation of activities.

At the community level there is a movement known as participatory budgeting that seeks to involve the public in the process of developing a spending plan for the local agency. Dr. Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project gave examples of projects in California that have changed the local budgeting practices from a public hearing style presentation of a proposed budget to a format that focuses on the development of a spending plan.

The city of Vallejo is the first city in the nation to initiate this process citywide.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento expressed concerns over the tension that sometimes exists between the necessary day to day activities of municipal services and how a city incorporates innovation to their day to day activities.

Stimulating discussions, from the people, in hopes our elected leaders will start a revolution for real change in California, it’s what we need.

Crossposted on California Forward Reporting