What's sinking the state's budget

By Senator Anthony Cannella
Monday, April 4, 2011

Previously published by the Merced Sun-Star

When I arrived in Sacramento this past December, I walked into the state Capitol with no preconceived notions about the political wrangling and dissension that solving the massive challenges facing our state would cause.

I knew making the kinds of drastic, draconian cuts necessary to close a $25 billion budget gap would cause pain to some of our state's most vulnerable populations.

And raising even the specter of taxes would undoubtedly cause uproar among families and businesses already struggling to make ends meet in the midst of sky-rocketing unemployment and plummeting personal incomes.

What has astounded me, however, is the iron grip of powerful special-interest groups that defend the status quo and have blocked California from making the fundamental changes necessary to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again in the future.

When Gov. Jerry Brown proposed his budget in January, he declared his intention to ask the voters for more money by extending what were supposed to be temporary tax increases.

But the choices he wanted to present to the people were incomplete; they failed to include any long-term fixes to California's structural problems.

California's persistent budget crisis is merely a symptom of a larger epidemic of fiscally irresponsible government spending, coupled with a continued refusal to make the fundamental reforms necessary to allow job creators to grow and thrive.

That's the reason my colleagues and I pushed for reforms that would go a long way toward solving these problems once and for all.

We asked for a spending cap that would have forced the state to live within its means, helped California pay down its debt and built a rainy day fund, while still protecting education funding.

We asked for pension reform that would have both controlled costs and prevented the abusive practice of pension-spiking, while still maintaining collective bargaining rights.

We asked for economic growth measures that would have streamlined processes for businesses and ensured regulations won't kill existing or future jobs.

To the governor's credit, he was receptive to our ideas.

However, finding agreement on these issues required an equal willingness from stakeholders on the other side to engage -- a willingness that was stunningly absent in our conversations.

In the end, it was the influence of the public-employee unions and other powerful special-interest groups that tied the hands of the governor and legislative Democrats, scuttling any possibility of giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on these desperately needed reforms.

Because of these groups' continued refusal to consider taking the tough, common-sense steps toward long-term reform, California today stands closer to the brink, with dimming hope of closing the urgent budget shortfall or of preventing these kinds of crises from happening again in the future.

Because of these groups' disinterest in discussing measures needed to get California back on track, schools, hospitals and families will have to find ways to do more with less. But they'll do it with little hope that things will get better next year or the year after that.

As I have told Gov. Brown, my commitment to addressing these challenges head-on has not wavered. I will continue press for these important reform measures because I believe they're critical to our state's future.

But until the stakeholders and special-interest groups on the other side demonstrate a willingness to join us at the table, there is little hope of getting California back on track. And our state will be all the worse for it.