SACRAMENTO – Every legislator could have skipped out of the country for the entire legislative session, and it would not have mattered one iota to anyone outside of their staff members. That’s not cynicism, so much as a fair and balanced assessment of the last legislative session.
I’m reminded of Milton Friedman’s quotation, “Governments never learn. Only people learn.” How long will it take Californians to learn that their government is venal and incompetent, controlled by special interests, and badly in need of housecleaning?
It’s not too late to save California, but no sane, taxpaying Californian (who isn’t living off a government paycheck or pension) should be without a sensible exit plan.
Let’s take a look at the past week.
It has been more than 100 days since the deadline passed for approving a state budget. So, for starters, our elected officials have yet to complete the one serious task that is expected of them. Furthermore, the governor has been signing and vetoing bills, and it’s no stretch to say that there isn’t anything that has passed that is of any vital importance. It’s all been a waste of time.
Nothing authored by a Republican could be of value. That’s not because Republicans are necessarily bad, but because, in this Democratic-controlled Legislature, nothing authored by a Republican has a prayer of passage unless it is innocuous or reflects the beliefs of the majority party.
Quickly scanning the list of recently signed bills, I found one authored by GOP Assemblyman Mike Villines of Fresno. This new law imposes fines on people who improperly operate their neighborhood electric vehicles in certain jurisdictions. The governor signed into law a bill by Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, authorizing two free hunting days a year, in addition to the two free fishing days a year, allowed by state game officials. These hardly are pressing matters.
Even most of the Democratic bills are minor league, given that the current governor consistently vetoes the worst business-killing proposals, and Democrats couldn’t pass a pro-business bill if it was guaranteed to cure cancer.
Most of the legislation is as meaningful as Santa Ana Democratic Sen. Lou Correa’s Senate Bill 1296, which instructs a state commission to study whether police and other first responders need special training in how to deal with veterans who show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. You really need a law for that?
Or there’s Assembly Bill 537, by Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, which will make sure that people can buy arugula and other such food stuffs at farmers’ markets with their government-assistance cards, which certainly is high on my list of priorities.
Happily, the governor vetoed various attempts to expand government pay and pensions for public employees – such as a bill by Assemblyman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana to make it easier for public employees to stay on taxpayer-funded disability leave. Said the governor in returning the bill without a signature: “[A]s we have seen with the current pension crisis, there is often an inclination to add special benefits and compensation to unsustainable levels. I am unwilling to facilitate this lack of fiscal responsibility by creating potentially new costs for public entities administering the public’s money.”
Seriously, is Solorio unaware of the mounting pension problem? Or is he just so committed to the union agenda that he doesn’t care?
One cannot expect the state’s legislators to be motivated by high ideals when the leading candidates for governor conduct the kind of ho-hum debate held Tuesday at UC Davis. We’re told that California is the greatest place on Earth, a magnet for the best and brightest. Then why are these the best gubernatorial candidates the state can produce in its (latest) time of crisis?
Republican Meg Whitman outlined some good generalities about reducing regulations, passing “targeted” tax cuts and reforming pensions, but she did it in her trademark robotic style. She’s a walking sound bite. Plus, no one expects that, even if she wins the election, she can get anything past the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Many of her ideas fall apart on the specifics. For instance, those of us who cheer when she promises to reform public employee pensions end up groaning when we see she wants to put the biggest part of the problem – those lush “3 percent at 50” pensions for public safety employees – off the table.
Then there’s Democrat Jerry Brown. He comes across oddly funny at times, thanks to his knack for self-deprecation – but he’s reminiscent of that cantankerous old uncle. He boasts that he will govern in a way that will often defy his own principles, with regard to taxes (per his initial opposition to Proposition 13 in 1978) and the death penalty (he’s against it, but will enforce it, but is delaying a planned execution), and other things. Translation: He has no real principles and simply wants the job, which, a cynic might say, is not all that different from his opponent.
Brown is clueless, though. He claimed that the state’s economy can be fixed almost solely by “investing” (read: government spending) in green jobs. Whitman put that nonsense to rest by noting that the Green Economy accounts for 3 percent of California’s jobs.
By the way, a common tactic used by sellers of this Green Economy moonshine is to reclassify any job with an even marginally environmental angle as a green job. Unfortunately, most true green industries would also find California’s tax and regulatory climate too stifling. Brown’s answer here makes him unfit for the job.
Perhaps the most lucid commentary I heard came from a homeless man who ran through Sacramento on Wednesday, saying, “We already had Brown once. Let’s go with Whitman.”
That’s good enough for me, but neither of them will be able to control a Legislature that’s out of touch with reality, not up to the job and that would do more good by doing nothing. I remain less optimistic than ever about the future of our state.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at [email protected].