California’s budget system is badly broken.
Every budget year in Sacramento, we have faced a crisis moment where legislators are presented with an array of bad options and told to choose. Painful cuts or job-killing taxes? This dilemma is caused by Sacramento’s habit of living paycheck-to-paycheck.
But these crises are largely of our own making, the result of a failure of to enact simple reforms. Between 2003 and 2007, as revenues spiked, state spending ballooned from $98.9 billion to $146.4 billion, a 48 percent increase in just five years. This overspending, coupled with a failure to save for the tough times, has led to our current crisis. If a portion of those one-time revenues had been prudently saved rather than hastily spent, many of the recent and painful cuts could have been avoided.
And every year, legislators declare our state of crisis is so grave there’s no time to consider major reforms. Year after year, Sacramento kicks the can down the road and claims they’ll get around to fixing the underlying problem someday in the future. But someday never comes.
This is why I am so committed to passing this year’s budget with lasting reforms. Those reforms must include a spending cap and a rainy day fund so that schools are never again forced to pay the price for Sacramento’s mistakes.
We also need to reform our tax code, which is at the heart much of the state’s woes.
Our current tax system is dangerously volatile, with revenues that surge and plummet in concert with small changes in the economy. Our tax system is notoriously effective at driving business out of the state.
The Milken Institute analyzed California job losses from 2000 to 2007 and concluded this costs the state budget $5 billion each year in lost tax revenue — more than most current tax increase proposals. If we are to avoid the “Groundhog Day” experience of boom-bust cycles while growing the tax base, we must make meaningful reforms to our tax code.
The need for these practical reforms is clear. What’s missing is the political will to effect these changes.
My opponent has suggested the solution is to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement and produce one-party rule. I simply disagree. Rewriting the Constitution so a Democrat never again has to work with another Republican is not my idea of bipartisan problem-solving. Though not always easy, I believe compromise is a good thing.
Last year, when serving as Assembly minority leader, I worked closely with Speaker Karen Bass to achieve two-thirds and sometimes unanimous votes for a number of difficult measures. I broke with the governor and joined with Assembly Democrats to unanimously pass a budget package June 25. Had it been enacted, we would have saved billions.
Speaker Bass and I worked closely to deliver the two-thirds vote for the historic water deal, and we found support on both sides of the aisle to pass the Race to the Top education reforms to help schools excel.
Sacramento has an opportunity to be innovative and reform-oriented as we tackle this year’s budget crisis. Rather than returning to the failed practices of the past, we must fix the underlying dysfunction that created this chronic crisis.
I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to not only achieve a balanced budget but also institute reforms that fix California once and for all.
To learn more about Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee’s views, go to www.blakesleeforsenate.com.
Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo represents the 33rd Assembly District in the California Legislature.