Two groups targeting California politics for extreme makeovers have made enhancing revenue streams for local government a focal point of the argument for supporting drastic change.
California Forward and the Bay Area Council both think the state has fallen into a rut, dressing the same tired budgeting tricks in tacky clothes and parading it around like a new solution.
They want a transformation starting at the city and county level, but they are selling different paths to slimming down big government-style budgeting.
“We need to move government closer to the people,” said Robert Hertzberg, former Democratic speaker of the state Assembly and now California Forward co-chair, at a Sacramento Press Club lunch while on a multi-media promotional tour.
California Forward (www.caforward.org), a bipartisan group funded largely by foundations, wants to change the way budgeting works in California.
The group started with a legislative study group to improve state spending plans and hopes to convince the legislature to put proposals for tax reform on the 2010 or 2012 ballot.
“We want to restore flexibility for local governments by giving them more control over their budgets,” explained Jim Mayer, California Forward executive director.
How much flexibility?
“They should have authority over raising and lowering taxes and managing programs. The state’s role is to set minimum standards and then let cities and counties – counties in particular – decide how to provide services.”
Allowing councils and boards of supervisors to decide whether to move some law enforcement funds into social services or the other way around based on the city’s individual situation and administrator preferences can be a compelling argument.
The Bay Area Council (www.bayareacouncil.org), another bi-partisan group, funded mainly by business, has called for a Constitutional Convention to overhaul the budget process and wants to put the idea to a statewide vote as early as 2010.
Last year, the group hired Oakland-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates to conduct a poll on public attitudes toward the idea.
Of the 800 people interviewed, 82 percent said the state is headed in the wrong direction.
Almost that many (80 percent) were extremely, very seriously or somewhat seriously concerned with how the state collects and distributes funds to local governments and schools.
Of the specific reforms polled for possible inclusion in the ballot initiative, the one that received the most support was the local control question.
Pollsters asked if the respondents would support “permitting local governments to keep locally collected taxes instead of sending them to Sacramento and having them redistributed back to local governments.” A total of 68 percent responded positively.
“More locally-collected funds should stay local,” concluded John Grubb, Bay Area Council senior vice president of external affairs.
How either of these groups will specifically make that happen will have to wait until the big reveal, probably after the May special election results show just how bad the state is in need of a new ‘do.