Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared 2005 to be the “Year of Reform.” The Governor has decided to bypass the state legislature altogether and take his reforms on redistricting, the state pension fund and teachers’ pay, directly to the people. But Schwarzenegger is only wasting valuable political capital in pressing for these reforms piecemeal. He should focus on changing the institution that is at the heart of all these problems — the legislature itself.
It is the legislature that is definitely the problem here. That august body passes all the taxing and spending bills that determine how each citizen’s hard-earned money is distributed. But our lawmakers in Sacramento have not been very good stewards of that money in recent years.
Since the tech bubble burst, California has been spending significantly more than it brings in. In the 2000-01 budget year, we spent $8 million more in expenditures than we took in taxes. In the 2004-05 budget year, that deficit ballooned to $17 million, according to the Center for Government Analysis.
Clearly, there is a lack of fiscal discipline here. Gov. Schwarzenegger has decided to deal with this problem by going directly to the people. However, dealing with each instance of egregious government waste piecemeal is like trying to change the course of a river by moving one pebble at a time; the river is likely washing away any progress you make by the time you are done fooling around with the pebbles.
What we need to do is dynamite the river. And by this, I mean kicking the bums out of Sacramento who are wasting our money. And by bums, I mean the Democrats.
After all, it is the Democrats who are primarily to blame here. They hold comfortable majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, so any legislation that comes through those houses must have their support. Thus, if there is anyone wasting money or obstructing reform, it is the Democrats.
But, the Democrats would say their hands are tied, because the Republicans block many of their spending plans. This is true insofar as many of their spending plans include raising taxes, tax increases that require a two-thirds majority to pass. Republicans will not sign off on tax increases for philosophical and practical reasons. Philosophically, they don’t raise taxes because they believe the people know how to spend their money better than the government can. And practically, they don’t raise taxes because their primary voters would eat them for breakfast if they did.
Besides, the legislature has already shown itself to be irresponsible with the money it already has. Would giving them more money restore their long-lost fiscal discipline? Would giving a drunken teenager a bottle of Jack Daniels sober him up? I think not.
Yet there still remains the practical problem of kicking the aforementioned bums out in the first place. It used to be thought that term limits would keep the riffraff from becoming entrenched in the political system. But term limits have only succeeded in replacing seasoned riffraff with the less experienced kind.
The new ideas to hit the street are introducing a part time legislature and using non-partisan judges to redraw legislative districts. The proponents of a part-time legislature tell us that the legislature’s irresponsibility stems from all the free time they have on their hands. I say irresponsible people will be irresponsible people. Whether you give them six months or a year, they will still manage to mess things up.
As for using judges to redraw legislative districts, let’s just say that we have not had much success in letting judges play around in the political arena. I present the Supreme Court as People’s Exhibit A.
No, the only long-term solution to our legislature problem is for We, the People, to take action at the ballot box. We need to hold our legislators personally accountable for the mess in Sacramento. If that means voting for the “other guy,” or just leaving the ballot blank, then that’s what we have to do. The only alternative is to be forced to keep doing what we pay our legislators to do — vote on initiatives. And if I have to do that, I want my money back.
Sean Paroski, whose column appears every Thursday, is a senior applied mathematics major.