California budget action now almost one year late

The California Constitution mandates that a budget be passed by June 15 of each year. The legislature finally did pass the budget on March 17, 2011, a mere nine months late, but still has not acted on how to fund it. Specifically, will redevelopment agencies be axed and tax hikes be extended?

It is now almost one year past the deadline and due to the endlessly squabbling, the California Legislature has failed to act on funding. Heck, they probably won’t even pass funding for last year’s budget before this year’s budget vote is due! And they’ll probably ignore that deadline too. In fact, they’ve only passed a budget on time five times since 1980.

Thus, our lawmakers would appear to be in violation of the Constitution.  Since lawmakers continually ignore the Constitution, the only conclusion that can be reached is that they are contemptuous of it or think it doesn’t apply to them.  Since there are no penalties for not passing a budget, they are free to ignore it. Gosh, what an inspiring message for the youth of California.  Maybe one day you too can grow up and ignore the Constitution.

Oh, there are multiple reasons why the California budget process is so broken.  One major reason is the dysfunctional proposition process which, among other things, dumps all manner of bond issues upon the state with no thought to how they will be repaid. The propositions often mandate that such monies only be spent in certain ways, which means that money can never be used for anything else. Except, of course, when the state tries to grab it to pay current obligations with nebulous promises about when it will be paid back. Jerry Brown slammed Schwarzenegger for doing this and is now doing it himself.

Another problem is that both parties are highly dependent upon their campaign contribution donors. Democrats are beholden to big labor, Republicans to big business. So, the more they demonize the other side and remain entrenched, the more the campaign money keeps flowing in. They seem unconcerned that California as a whole suffers from this. Besides, once they leave the legislature, cushy jobs and important contacts will surely be waiting for them. If this happened in a Latin American country, we’d snicker about how corrupt they are. Of course, only the deeply cynical would opine that large amounts of money might influence or buy the votes of California legislators.

We have a nationwide problem, of which California is a telling example. Concern for the common good is vanishing. Our unspoken social contract, that we sometimes do things for the betterment of the whole, is being shredded.  The agendas of special interest groups continually outweigh concern for society in general. Dishonesty and corruption are increasing in politics and no one is doing much of anything to stop it. In a book about Las Vegas in the 1950’s, a FBI agent said the mobsters weren’t smarter than anyone else.  It was just that they would do things other people wouldn’t do.

That attitude has been seeping into our political world at large. It’s all about me and my goals and if I break the law or ignore the common good, so what? By willfully and continually refusing to pass a budget and its funding on time, California lawmakers present a terrible example. Why should any California kid respect the Constitution when the legislature doesn’t?