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Sacramento snoozes while state suffers

by Bob Morris, published

The state legislature sauntered back from their month long July vacation on August 1 and promptly got back to what they were doing before, which is virtually nothing of substance about passing a budget.  Now September is here, and there has still been no meaningful forward motion on a budget. Goodness, just because the state constitution mandates that a budget be passed by June 30, and it's already two months late, is certainly no reason for our esteemed legislators to work themselves into a tizzy doing what they were elected to do. 

Truly, it's certainly better for them to sit and think about a number of things, then vote on competing budgets that had no chance of passing and in fact, didn't. This was, according to Assembly Speaker Perez, a "next logical step" in the process he has been promising for months, a way to get "a honest appraisal of where people are at." Excuse me, but I think we already know that. Republicans want to slash spending to the bone and not have any new taxes because they delude themselves into thinking this will somehow grow the economy. Meanwhile, Democrats want to keep spending mostly as it is while imposing a bunch of new fees and taxes that magically won't actually increase anyone's taxes. 

Do I have that right? And is there any question as to where the respective sides are at? 

The problem is both sides in the legislature are ideologically fixated as well as being beholden to their special interest groups and donors. They can stonewall the budget for months more. Hey, it's not hurting them. Plus, it's a wonderful fundraising opportunity. They can howl about the deviousness and obstinacy of the other side then wait as the money pours in. But for the rest of us, they're acting like spoiled children throwing temper tantrums.  We need a new approach here. Perhaps we could administer spankings as punishments for the late budget. One spank for every day the budget is late, administered publicly once a week to all legislators by those who are suffering from their willful childishness. 

There are many who could deliver the spankings.  Over 1,000 health centers are no longer receiving Medi-Cal payments. If the budget delay continues, some may close their doors.  College students who were expecting Cal Grant money have no idea if or when it will arrive. The same holds true for community colleges. Legislators, political appointees, and other elected officials have had their pay withheld since June 30 while state workers face a mandatory 3 day a month "furlough," which amounts to a 15% pay cut. State vendors aren't being paid either.  Meanwhile, there are huge amounts of deferred maintenance to the infrastructure of the state that aren't getting done. This will only get worse, as will the amount of interest the state must pay on future bonds, given its sinking financial situation. This is not a status quo situation. The longer the legislature refuses to act like adults and pass a budget, the worse it will get for California. 

I suspect they are waiting for deus ex machina, a magical and sudden solution to a seemingly impossible problem, in the form of a huge bailout from the federal government.  But D.C. has financial problems of its own, and if it sent tens of billions to California, it would need to do the same for Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and other states as well.  Besides, one of California's biggest problems is unfunded public pension liabilities. A bailout would do nothing to remedy that.

California needs structural reform, and fast. But what it's getting is a Do-Nothing legislature seemingly oblivious to genuinely working together towards solving a huge and growing financial crisis.

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