The national health care debate and California’s budget challenges definitely have one thing in common:
Everyone knows there is a problem, but when reform is on the horizon there tends to be just enough support to limp along with status quo rather than for needed change.
We have 47 million people in this country without health insurance, spiraling costs, and yet fears of morphing into a government led by Josef Stalin seem to be foremost on people’s minds. Likewise, in California, we have long been free of any illusion that the state is working.
We’ve recalled a governor, taken authority away from the Legislature, added reactionary and sometimes draconian, laws and adversely impacted the state’s general fund. The result has made us more dysfunctional today than when we began this political odyssey. Each layer of coating designed to cover one of the state’s perceived problems has served only to make it more glaring.
Myriad special interests are now using the courts to circumvent the harsh cuts in the latest budget. It was recently reported that more than $1 billion has been restored to various services. Why have a budget process if groups can simply go to court?
The court decisions to replenish the funds that have been cut may indeed serve the public good. Those engaged in the process may justifiably feel they have no alternative, but it is difficult to suggest this is an efficient way for the state to operate — it prolongs the overall dysfunction.
Moreover, the funds that are put back via the legal process are not burdened to figure out the impact these isolated decisions might have on the remainder of the current budget or the negotiations on the next budget.
Without a commitment to a series of structural reforms, there is simply no way to expect the state’s system will improve. I’ve suggested these in the past, but they bear repeating.
End the two-thirds majority requirement in the Legislature to approve budgets. This is an archaic system embraced by only three states. Who honestly believes this serves the best interest of California? When the two-thirds vote was enacted, Franklin Roosevelt was still in his first term as president and five states had more electoral votes than California.
The California of 1934 is obviously not the California of today. It is simply unrealistic to give 34 percent of the Legislature the power to block the desires of the remaining 66 percent.
Revise the initiative process
Direct democracy, which allows the electorate to make laws and policy, stands in contrast to representative democracy and has contributed greatly to the state’s economic woes.
I know that it is convenient to believe that electorate can do a better job than the people we send to Sacramento to represent us, but we the people have passed bond measures, locked in funds for specific issues and enacted laws without any institutional memory and no way to address the unintended consequences that are a byproduct of any legislation.
I recently spoke with Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Campbell. He along with other organizations advocate that any initiative that potentially impacts the general fund must also indicate on the ballot how the initiative will pay for itself. It is irresponsible to place propositions on the ballot without explaining how they will be funded.
End term limits
Perhaps not as popular as the previous two, in terms of polling, but it is equally crucial to any reform efforts, if not more so.
We don’t have good people in the Legislature. I say that not because there is no talent, but rather the missing ingredient to become an effective legislator is time. The time required to develop institutional memory is simply not there.
Moreover, it requires time to build trust with members on the other side of the political aisle — a key element to compromise.
The primary motivation to enact terms limits, regardless of the hyperbole, was to get rid of one person: former Speaker Willie Brown. Well, Proposition 140 effectively removed Brown from office, but in retrospect, look at the price the state has paid.
I would certainly go beyond the recommendations that I’ve outlined, but the state must start somewhere. Each day that California fails to enact these changes, it will further the belief that many already hold about the state: It’s ungovernable
Byron Williams has served as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland since 2002. As the only pastor/syndicated columnist in the country, Williams writes a column which appears in 10 publications and several progressive web sites across the country.