Memo to Budget Negotiators
To: Legislative and Gubernatorial Budget Negotiators
From: Concerned Citizenry
Much has been said by each of you about the severity and magnitude of California’s estimated $42 billion budget gap.
While $42 billion is a hefty chunk of change it represents the difference between revenue and spending commitments – if no cuts or tax increases are enacted — as of June 30, 2010, a little less than 18 months from now.
Decisions are being made now to try and avoid that from happening. This is good.
However, do none of you find it troubling that the decisions you are making regarding the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars are largely made in private and then announced deus ex machina to us, the public, whose money it is you are allocating.
Seems like there should be some public hearings on what’s happening to the public’s money. There used to be hearings like that. Of course, there used to be conference committees and compromise too.
It was stated in the Sacramento Bee that one reason for your secrecy was fear that special interest groups would pick your proposal apart. These would be the same special interest groups you assure us you are standing up to?
While we are aware that the Legislative Analyst is exhaustively reviewing the governor’s proposal that isn’t what lawmakers are ultimately going to approve and whatever they do approve it just seems like there should be at least a smidge of input from the public.
Recently, the State Water Resources Control Board held a public hearing – one of something like a dozen around the state – to gather public input on some proposed septic tank regulations.
The regulations would require homeowners to check their tanks every five years and conduct a test costing several hundred dollars to determine the presence or lack of a variety of compounds even though leaky septic tanks only leach nitrates and chloroform.
At the hearing, held in Nevada City, several members of the public proposed conducting the test at the time of a house’s sale, pointing out that the average California house changes ownership every seven years.
And, they noted, most buyers insist the seller pump out the tank anyway.
Two engineers also observed that septic tanks leach only two compounds and said the testing should be limited to those two – a far cheaper but just as effective alternative.
Participation by the public created the potential for a smarter, less burdensome, more cost-effective proposal.
Similarly, public input on the spending of $200 billion or so of their state tax dollars might provide some smarter alternatives to those you are considering.
Better choices might be found if some testimony were taken from the 1 million or so aged, blind and disabled poor who not only will not receive a cost of living increase this year but will see their checks rolled back to 2008 levels in order to save $177 million this year and $500 million the next.
As noted previously in these pages, is the best policy choice to short public schools by $6.6 billion or impose a .5 percent surcharge on state income tax to make up the difference? The tiny state tax increase is deductible on federal taxes and income tax is less regressive than the sales tax in which a person in poverty pays the same rate as Warren Buffet.
Does an oil severance tax help or hurt the economy? Can state money be spent more prudently? Why impose the sales tax on veterinary medicine but not on accountants and plastic surgeons?
And so on.
Sure, it’s a representative government and you’re supposed to represent us but most of you were around last year when a record for tardiness was set for passing an alleged budget that was both irresponsible and out of balance in 15, maybe 16, seconds. So, with respect, looks like you can use some help.
Finally, while the Legislature is not subject to the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act – a drafting error, no doubt – at a minimum some sunlight should be shone on the most important public policy act the state takes: putting together its annual spending plan.
Strongly worded letter to follow.
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