California Meltdown

I’ve been paying close attention to the on going budget discussions as the California legislature gear-up for the annual budget fight. I would like to take the occasion of this blog entry to summarize my solution for this situation.

First, the estimates in the range of 14 billion dollars are lower than the actual numbers. If nothing changes this debt will expand exponentially. Structurally, the debt is much closer to 100 billion without any reforms. The lawmakers have so much automatic growth build into retirement, healthcare, education and other programs that the economy of the State cannot support the promises made thus far let alone deal with infrastructure and other needs created by neglect of elected officials.

While the legislature’s problems are all self inflicted, they are made even worse by the multitude of ballot measures passes in the last two decades that attempt to fix issues for which lawmakers have failed to provide leadership. Term limits and safe seats created by gerrymandered districts have also made the problem more pronounced.

Republican proposals offered this week to shift blame onto illegal aliens are a diversion that only nibbles at the edge of the fiscal mess. These ideas will not fix the fiscal mess we are in.

There is a large gap between what should happen and what is actually achievable in the current climate. I would like to deal with what is achievable. My idea is both a face-saving measure for the current leadership in both parties and also provides political cover from the political fall-out that will result.

The creator of the Dilbert comic strip wrote that there is a right way, a wrong way and the weasel way. I am skipping the other two options and heading straight for the weasel way.

The legislative leadership and the governor need to do the same thing the Congress did many years ago when Congress decided to start closing military bases; namely, they need to create a “Blue Ribbon” commission to craft an omnibus fix for the mess. It will be a combination of closing tax loopholes, instituting cost of living increases for departments of government not automatic double-digit increases (kill zero based budgeting), undoing budget allocations via previously passed ballot initiatives, raising voter threshold to enact any new budget mandates to a supermajority, restructuring state employee benefits and reforming the budget process to a two-year budget not an annual one.

The legislature will then need to swallow their pride and pass this thing before it gets too hot to handle. In military jargon, pull the pin, throw the grenade and run like hell the other direction. If this idea works take credit for it, if it blows-up in your face, blame to other guys. Remember, failure is an orphan but success has many fathers.

This fix will probably require a set of ballot measures to be fully enacted.

After everything is back on track, the people should enact a part-time legislature; after all, I did say the budget was every two years.