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That Missing Element to Balancing Our State Budget

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To those who proclaim that our state’s initiative process is the cause, and not the answer, to our current governmental mess, there are two polls that should hopefully refute that distorted—and rather outdated—view of one of our greatest grassroots/voter access to power-sharing with the political and elites.
The first results of the Times/USC Dornsife poll came out Sunday, proclaiming how Californians of both parties really wanted to have the opportunity to raise taxes once they learned the devastating effects on education, prisons and vital services if cuts alone were used to solve our state’s budgetary problems. (Link)

Unfortunately, that article saved for its end the grave concerns also shown in the poll of how voters of both parties perceive Sacramento’s spending to be so poorly-managed, which might lead one to the conclusion that the LA Times was again pursuing its old pitch of “Democrats always good, Republicans always bad” because the headlines belied the balanced approach that most Californians have towards politics and the role of government.

After all, we are a state that gave the state GOP, Schwarzeneggar and Whitman and all the compromising, tax-raising GOP legislative leaders a huge thumbs-down last November while voting in a slew of initiatives that were pretty economically conservative (dare I say “Republican”?) in nature.  In other words, liberal-but-trusted Democrats were handed the unpleasant task of handling our budget deficit in a conservative manner.

However, the following Monday the second portion of the results came out which described the greater and more accurate picture among voters—which is that increased taxes must come with governmental reform. (link). That means pension reform, salary reform, benefits reform…you name it, the voters want reform from the public sector unions that forget they serve the voters, not the other way around.

Looking at the polls, it does appear that Californians of both parties do value their teachers and police officers and firefighters, etc., but want some give-and-take with respect to policies that have warped the salary/benefit/pension process beyond all tolerability.  

So the old standby of the figurative gun to the student’s head of “give us the money or the kid gets it” won’t fly any more with voters who are hurting themselves financially and won’t be tooled, anymore…but who are still willing to do the right thing under the right circumstances.  

Ditto with police, fire, prison guards and other valued state workers who by and large are doing the right thing but are letting their union leaders make them look like rapacious fat cats.

Perhaps, then, we can reevaluate the breakup of negotiations between moderate GOP lawmakers and Governor Jerry Brown over what terms a tax measure can be put on the ballot after the Legislature cut $12 billion (wonder if the Democratic Legislature would have agreed to that with a Republican governor, but I digress…).

Is it a conspiracy theory or a fact that the GOP lawmakers did the Governor a favor by preventing the voters from deciding on tax increases before real salary/pension reform was enacted?

It’s clear that the Governor has done a great job of making it clear that cuts alone would be too painful for Californians (or at least most Californians) with respect to education, prisons, vital services, etc.  

But other polls also show that the voters aren’t too happy with raising their taxes at this immediate time, considering the myriad ways that public funds get wasted (shoddy and overbudgeted school and other construction costs as well as state pension policy abuse come to mind).

So the missing piece of the puzzle, as George Skelton (who’s been foaming at the mouth for a tax increase for years) of the Times hints? (Link) Fix the union contracts, and not just window dressing, so that tax hikes won’t let any state workers abuse their privileges off the hook.

It’s no secret that Jerry Brown got a lot of union help in defeating Meg Whitman, but it’s also no secret that Jerry Brown came across to the voters as more a man of sincerity than his “who-knows-what-she-stands-for” opponent.  Unlike his predecessor, Governor Brown convinced the Legislature to make some serious cuts in state government, and it’ll be up to him to tell the Legislature and their union leader puppet-masters that the voters won’t tolerate any lack of serious reform this election cycle.

In other words, it’s either state government truly, truly lives within its means or the nightmare cuts commence, and state workers and services get slashed and communities are left to fend for themselves.

Also in other words, it’s not just the eeeeevil rich, and/or the eeeeevil Republicans, who are holding up the necessary cut-and-tax-and-reform process to save our state, it’s the cowardice of Sacramento politicians that prevents them from representing their constituents (of both parties) and standing up to the leaders of our public sector unions who have really hurt the credibility of all state workers.

Such cowardice isn’t fair to either the voters or state workers of California, because by and large most of them are trying to do the right thing based on past and current economic realities.  

Similarly, we need more people like the outgoing LAUSD Superintendant Ramon Cortines, who fought to raise educational standards while enacting financial and bureaucratic reform, and fewer people like the outgoing UTLA President A.J. Duffy, who to this day remains an apologist for a failed teachers union that has left its youngest and often best teachers at risk of being fired based on policy, not merit.

We also need men and women of honor to do the right thing within our state government, thereby inspiring the rest of us to do the right thing by contributing higher taxes for a winning cause:  the present and future citizens of the state of California.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently cochairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)   -cw




CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 33
Pub: Apr 26, 2011

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