Same old budget battles

I doubt the public fully appreciates the difficulty in passing a budget in California–let alone an on-time budget.
As one of only three states in the country to require a super-majority of 2/3 of each house of the legislature to ensure passage (only Rhode Island and Arkansas share this questionable distinction) the process becomes almost impossible, especially in today’s hyper-partisan world.
During my six years in the legislature, we went from years of plenty to years of drought in the blink-of-an-eye. With cooperation, budgets could and should have been done on time and in a bi-partisan manner with each side getting and giving enough to meet any reasonable standard. But in a 2/3 super-majority world, this is almost impossible.
In our state, where Democratic majorities preside in both houses, the budget is one of the very few times the Republicans play a significant role and with the radicals in charge of that party today, there is little if any likelihood that they will agree on anything that could even hint of responsible and effective government. After all, this group of right-wingers wants to marginalize government, not make it work. It’s all about shrinking government and thus letting the private sector take over. Greed and profit will replace the common good. Accountability and oversight of Corporate America and multi-national oil, tobacco and insurance companies will be eliminated.That’s the Right-wing’s goal. Only government of the people stands in their way.

If you’re looking for an on-time budget, we simply have to join the rest of the country and return to the normal process of governing—majority rules. This, of course, makes the best sense. The majority is responsible for the budget’s success or failure. The majority is held accountable for the decisions it makes and if the public is unhappy, it can and should vote that party out. That’s democracy. What exists today is a broken system allowing for unacceptable mischief and abuse.
While in the legislature, I saw several of my Republican colleagues who pontificated about responsible spending, seek huge amounts of “pork” for their districts in exchange for their votes on the budget; many others being threatened with primary challenges from ultra-conservatives if they didn’t stay with the program and hold-out against a timely or even appropriate budget. As I entered my final term, I saw several of my Republican colleagues actually experience that fate and lose their seats because they dared to challenge their leaders and support the budget after much negotiation and compromise.
We need to amend this unrealistic requirement and terminate this political mayhem. But until that happens, we will see the kind of game-playing we’re seeing today where Republicans are simply looking for excuses to avoid passing this budget on time. They are protesting expenditures for health care that total about $24 Million.
In a budget that exceeds $130 Billion, that is inexplicable.
Although the budget reflects a state’s moral priorities, it is a document negotiated and moderated by numerous competing interests. But in this case, even our Republican governor rejects his party’s heartless and indefensible position that by providing health services for our children we’ll be encouraging illegal immigration. After all, communicable diseases don’t check citizenship status before infecting their victims. If for no other reason than common sense, we should be doing our best to limit exposure to disease and providing basic health care is simply the most effective way to do that.
Over the next several days, some of our key progressive leaders will be blogging for us on some of the budget details and the politics going on in the process. In the meantime, if Californians really wants to make government more effective and responsive to its people, let’s start by reforming the 2/3 requirement to pass a budget and rejoin the rest of the country in how we go about doing the important fiscal business of our great state. It’s just good government and heaven knows, we could all certainly benefit from some.