‘Siren Song’ Worked Once — Let’s Riff on It One More Time
To the Members of the California State Senate:
I am returning Senate Bill 14 without my signature.
This bill is another siren song of budget reform. It inflicts a “one size fits all” budget planning process on every state agency and function – even functions that aren’t actually managed by the state so long as they receive any “benefit” from it.
The politically expedient course would be to sign this bill and bask in the pretense that it is some panacea for our budget woes. But the hard truth is that this bill will mandate thousands of hours of work – at the cost of tens of millions of dollars – with little chance of actual improvement.
What California needs is a common sense approach to its budgeting, something we have been doing for the last year and will continue to do. Instead of requiring each and every department, no matter how big or small or important or not, to develop and track “performance metrics,” “target performance levels and “desired outcomes,” shouldn’t we first examine whether some of these programs or departments should exist at all? And while some programs will clearly benefit from the performance-based budgeting approach outlined in this bill, for others it will be a costly waste of time. The ideas we offered to take an approach based on common sense and flexibility were unfortunately rejected.
I will issue an Executive Order in the upcoming weeks that combines the good ideas contained in this bill with the practical, tailored approach that I believe will make an actual difference in the way we budget and run our government.
Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
(Editor’s Note: For those who did not benefit from the classical education enjoyed by the 34th and 39th governor of the Great State of California — degrees in Latin and Greek from UC Berkeley in 1961 — the sirens of Greek mythology are bird-bodied seductresses whose beguiling song lures sailors to their death. Once handmaidens to Perspehone, they were given the bodies of birds by Persephone’s mother, Demeter, to join the search for her daughter after she was kidnapped by Hades, the Underworld kingpin. Failing to find Persephone, the sirens settled on the island of Anthemoessa and got down to the business of sailor luring. Jason and the Argonauts escaped their clutches thanks to Orpheus whose strong and dulcet song drowned out that of the sirens. Later, Odysseus and his crew also escaped. Odysseus bound himself to the mast so as not to submit to the sirens’ entrancing strains and dulcet words which promised knowledge, wisdom and a quickening of the spirit to all who joined them. On the advice of Circe, who previously had turned them into pigs, the crew of Odysseus used wax earplugs to block the mesmerizing beckonings. Supposedly, the Sirens were so distraught at a man hearing but not succumbing to their wiles that they hurled themselves into the sea and drowned. In the governor’s usage, siren song is “an alluring utterance or appeal — especially one that is seductive or deceptive,” says Merriam-Webster. )
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