GOP senators push ahead with reform proposals

By Senators Tom Berryhill and Anthony Cannella
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

As published in The Modesto Bee

The majority-vote budget passed by legislative Democrats and signed by Gov. Brown represents everything California voters hate about Sacramento.

Not only does it make deep cuts to education, public safety and human service programs, but it fails to do anything to fix the underlying problems that have contributed to our state's continuing budget crisis.

It didn't have to be this way.

To be clear: there were Republican votes to put Brown's tax question before the voters. We supported his campaign pledge to ask for Californians' approval of such a measure, and we wanted to present voters with a menu of reform measures designed to get our state back on track by placing a hard cap on state spending, addressing our state's unfunded pension liabilities and jumpstarting job creation and economic growth.

But in March, and again in June, our efforts to advance these good-government measures were blocked by special-interest groups that don't have the stomach for real reform. Because these groups were unwilling to give Californians the opportunity to vote on changes to the way our government works, those negotiating on their behalf repeatedly moved the goal posts for a compromise.

In the end, it was Brown who again walked away from the bargaining table — and from a crucial opportunity to achieve long-term reforms. While it's disappointing that the governor and legislative Democrats capitulated to those fighting tooth and nail to protect the status quo, Republicans continue to believe that the reform measures we've been discussing for months are necessary to fix California's budget in the long term.

Their passage will be critical to the future of our state. And that's the reason we're continuing to pursue these reforms in four bills we've introduced in the Senate.

Our pension reform proposal, outlined in SCA 13, relieves the long-term burden of multibillion-dollar pension liabilities currently being shouldered by cities, counties and the state. Ensuring employees pay a fair share of their health and pension benefits, while also giving them more control over their nest eggs, helps protect workers and reduces costs.

The measure also helps prevent six-figure budget-busting payouts by capping the amount of pensionable pay and by requiring that pensions be calculated based on an employee's actual base pay (not on bonuses or perks), averaged over five years.

Our spending cap proposal, outlined in SCA 14, will ensure Sacramento doesn't spend more than it has. Just like a family budget, this will mean prioritizing spending when times are tough and setting aside money to pay off debt when times are good.

This cap protects education funding and would stay in place until we pay off the bills we owe to our schools, local governments and other funds we've raided over the years.

After those debts are paid off, this hard cap will transition into a more flexible, but permanent, measure that builds our rainy day fund so we'll have money in the bank if the economy ever dips again.

Our regulatory reform proposal, outlined in SB 195 and 196, helps get Californians back to work by ensuring homegrown businesses have the freedom to grow, succeed and hire workers. Improving the process by which regulations are developed will help that ensure new and existing rules won't kill jobs.

These bills also take away the profit motive for frivolous lawsuits and streamline processes for businesses so these economic engines can have the predictability necessary to expand their operations in California.

Together, the passage of these four measures will help fix some of the fundamental problems that have caused our state's chronic spending, budget and economic problems. And they're key to getting California back on track.

Special-interest groups may have won this round by preventing voters from weighing in on long-term reform, but we won't let them win the war over California's future.