“Late! Late! Late!” said the White Rabbit.
After an embarrassing 100 days after the start of the 2010-11 fiscal year, the California Legislature finally approved the most-delayed budget in state history. The passed budget, one I voted against, is flawed. It is not balanced and moves our budget “woes” on to next year while doing little to solve the inherent problems our state faces.
While the passage of a “no-tax” compromise budget is welcome news for many Californians sick and tired of Sacramento politics, the delay could have averted if the Democrats, who control the Legislature, had worked with the Republicans earlier. After all, Governor Schwarzenegger released his budget proposal on January 8, giving Democrats ample time to craft their counterproposal and begin negotiations with him and the legislative Republicans.
The majority party controls the legislative calendar so discussion on the budget never occurred. In fact, my Assembly Republican colleagues and I asked Democrats to begin bipartisan negotiations in early March so we could avert this painful budget delay. We even placed 100-day countdown posters on our office doors to let Democrats know how many days were left before the end of the fiscal year. Sadly, the Democrats decided to hold out in the vain hope that Republicans would agree to raise your taxes. This was in stark contrast to the Republicans proposal, who lined up behind the Governor’s no-tax budget framework in early May. Democrats could barely agree on which taxes to raise. As a result, the constitutional deadline to pass a budget on June 15 came and went. It wasn’t until August that the majority party Democrats released a budget relying on billions in middle-class tax increases; a plan that was utterly unrealistic given California’s high unemployment rate. Higher taxes would have killed more jobs.
While I am pleased that Californians were spared from higher taxes this year, there was no excuse for the Legislature to pass a budget 100 days after it was due. If my company did that, I would be out of business; if a student turned in their work that late, they would receive an “F.”
While the deadline to pass the 2011-12 budget is less than eight months away, it is imperative that the top priority of the incoming Legislature and new Governor must be to a balanced, on-time budget. We cannot afford another 100-day impasse that will worsen our long-term budget problems and damage our economic recovery. Lawmakers should not be working on lesser priorities and trivial bills until we pass a no-tax balanced budget. We must consider reforms that will encourage a speedier process, such as adopting a two-year budget which would allow more time to study the effectiveness of state spending. I am even in favor of not getting paid until a budget is passed.
While we took a good step this year by placing reforms on the 2012 ballot that will create a “rainy day fund”, we need to do much more. Passing an on-time balanced budget will depend on the Democrats’ ability to realize that higher taxes only kill jobs and make our state’s problems worse. Until there are more fiscal conservatives in the Legislature, fasten your seatbelts; we could be in for another long and bumpy ride next year.