January 30, 2009

Editorial:

What good are elected officials?

As State spins out of control

As the budget continues to lag in Sacramento and as the State Controller prepares to start sending out IOUs to tax payers, employees, and local governments, a nagging question bothers us all: What good are our elected officials? They seem to have no clue what to do and appear to sit around, spinning platitudes based on ideology! Meanwhile the State hurdles towards disaster and its citizens continue to struggle and fear for the worst.

A disconnect exist between politicians and the rest of the State. How else can you explain that when jobs are lost, homes are foreclosed, businesses closed, and the State runs out of cash, our political leadership wastes time and consumer confidence by playing partisan politics? This budget crisis is not something new or unexpected but a crises that has long been on the horizon. The crisis was exasperated by the lack of a substantial budget earlier in the year. Yet legislators continue to ignore problems.

We can draw clear distinctions between the swift action that President Obama is taking with the national economy and the sad lack of leadership in California. On a National level, President Obama expects a stimulus bill on his desk by mid-February. The bill is expected to start the country back onto the road to recovery, putting people back to work. In California, it seems as though our political leaders are simply hoping for President Obama to fix our problems. The reality of an actor turned Governor has finally hit home. The Schwarzenegger charm has worn off and his ability to lead is non-existent. He has become a bit player in his own production.

State Controller John Chang has to make hard choices. There is no budget and no cash in our coffers. Businesses that provide services to the State may get IOUs, disabled Californians may lose their low-income support, State agencies funding critical public services (public safety, healthcare, education) may be left in the lurch, and taxpayers may receive IOUs in lieu of their earned tax refund.

Pitifully, while the State hurdles toward an economic catastrophe, our political leadership can’t see the forest for the trees. They keep spinning the same arguments - the Democrats want to increase sales tax while the Republicans want to cut spending. While the two parties battle over old ideological issues, the citizenry has begun to demand positive action.

Perhaps the two party system has worn out its welcome. Is it time for a third party to come forth with a better solution for these age old problems? Unfortunately for now, we are stuck with these two parties acting in a leadership vacuum.

The current budget stalemate has led to the discussion of changing the State constitution. Under the constitution, a budget must be passed from a 2/3rds majority vote. The 2/3rd vote requirement has given the minority State Republicans the ability to make the majority State Democrats bend to their will. A few Republican votes could break budget stalemates. But the Republican minority has remained undivided.

If the constitution changed from the 2/3rd vote requirement to simple majority to pass a budget, the stalemates could end. However, there could also be a potential for uncontrolled abuse by the majority party. As long as the Democratic Party has the majority, a simple majority vote would reduce Republican influence over State policy and priorities. Losing Republican influence could be counter productive.

There is hope that new redistricting rules will allow for a more responsive government. More balanced and competitive districts could require more accountable representatives. Because current legislative districts are carved up into “safe” districts, there hasn’t seemed to be a real need for legislators to be responsive to the voters or to be more proactive during long, drawn out budget battles.

In the short term, prospects look bleak for the California budget impasse. How bad will it get for those holding IOUs before State legislatures finally come to their senses decide on a budget? What good are politicians if they can’t lead? When will their delusions of adequacy give way to proactive stewardship of our state?

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