California’s budget is broken. The process is dysfunctional. Californians have soured on the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And during this crisis, candidates in this race are reluctant to offer a specific plan to solve the greatest challenge California has faced in decades.
Maybe that’s because there aren’t good choices. For a real solution, leadership is required, and there will have to be sacrifices. As a candidate — and hopefully as senator — I’m prepared to take the difficult steps to adopt a balanced state budget this year.
Long-term issues have to be addressed. Eighty-five percent of state budget revenue comes from either sales tax or personal income tax, which swing wildly with the economy and don’t allow for future planning. Thirty years of ballot propositions have added new costs to the state budget without bringing in any new revenue to support them. Every time such a measure is passed, the state budget gets squeezed because existing items compete against the new voter-approved priorities within the same budget.
California also is one of just three states with a budget that operates under minority rule rather than majority rule. The required two-thirds legislative budget approval leads to late budgets, and no one is truly accountable.
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Each of these items desperately needs reform. We must reform the revenue side of the budget so that it is reliable. We must reform the initiative process so that ballot measures spend only money they bring to the table. And it’s time to join 47 other states and move to majority rule on the budget, as well as hold legislators accountable if the budget is late.
In the current budget debate, legislators have retreated to their ideological corners. “No more cuts!” “No new taxes!” Statewide polls show the public wants no major cuts and no new taxes. But that simply isn’t possible. It’s time for legislators to have the backbone to reject the dogma of each side and take the hard steps to fix the problem.
There are two proposals on the table. Gov. Schwarz-enegger proposes more cutting and cutting — a position supported by Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee. They support even more cutting beyond the 20 percent already cut in the last 18 months: another $250 per student cut in K-12 education, an end to the social safety net amid record unemployment, housing foreclosures and rate increases that will kick kids off health care.
Legislative alternatives also make cuts but balance them with politically risky steps such as delaying corporate tax breaks, keeping last year’s vehicle license fee increase, adjusting and balancing personal income and sales taxes, and enacting an oil extraction tax, something every other oil-producing state in the nation has. I support these proposals.
By making these moves, we can start adding back to public education and not continue cuts that have led to teacher layoffs and increased classroom sizes. We can keep basic social safety net programs in place and not price kids out of health care.
It’s time to send a legislator to Sacramento who pledges to do what’s best for California, not do as Assemblyman Blakeslee did by taking a rigid and dogmatic no-taxes-ever pledge to an East Coast political operative, ensuring more gridlock, no matter what real life is like for people here in California.
When Assemblyman Blakeslee says he wants better funding for education and wants to preserve the social safety net just as I do, the question to be asked is, “How will you do that?” Unlike my opponent, I’m on the record specifically about the hard choices to be made.
To learn more about John Laird’s views, go to www.lairdforsenate.com.
Former Assemblyman John Laird of Aptos is the Democratic candidate for state Senate in Tuesday’s special election.