State government is broken. Just about everybody agrees – including an apparently growing number of Californians. Poll after poll shows a large majority of voters believe the state on the “wrong track” and nearly as many suspect dysfunction in Sacramento is to blame.
So, lawmakers, business leaders, think tanks, local elected officials and other organized interests are actively advancing some kind of “fix it” plan – or plans for a plan.
Special committees of the Legislature have been formed, calls for a constitutional convention are being made and political pundits are endlessly speculating on a basketful of ideas.
Primary attention is focused on the Legislature and its myriad “processes” although a strong case can and should be made for closely examining the excesses, overlap and accountability of state bureaucracies. (Remember the “boxes” to be blown up a few years back?)
To be sure, discussions about reform have been and will continue to be exciting. But, can anything get done? It will be hard, for example, for budgeteers to detail a new, multi-year discipline for budgeting since nearly all their attention for the next several years will paid to matching state revenues with state expenditures. Another popular reform would have the Legislature devote the first year of a two-year legislative cycle to just budget business. Good idea, but can agreement on this one be easily reached? And, the way things are going politically, it’s unlikely voters want to change the state constitution to allow budgets and taxes to be approved by a simple majority of the Legislature or to extend legislative term limits, as some reformers are suggesting.
So, here’s a reform idea that people should be able to agree on and would go a long way to establishing order at the Capitol, and might even help to restore voter confidence in state government once again. How about simply establishing means to formally set California’s public policy priorities each year for elected leaders in Sacramento to follow in all their lawmaking and policy-making? We all set priorities – we have to. We do it every day – to establish order, to manage time and expectations and to, confidently, get things done. So, why not state government.
To illustrate, let’s say that job creation is set as the top priority for 2010. Certainly, a strong case can be made for ranking this high on everyone’s priority list. Indeed, with over 12 percent of the state’s workforce unemployed, it would be hard for the Governor or any legislator to say it isn’t tops. Following an announcement – to the public and their governing colleagues – state leaders would then proceed to institute a plan whereby the normal business of state government for the year is organized to accomplish a jobs agenda.
Specific changes in the Legislature might start with a declaration that except for emergencies and the budget, other issues will have to wait until the jobs agenda can be completed. Jobs bills would be automatically fast-tracked and would take effect immediately upon the signature of the Governor. Rules on scoring would change to allow the use of “dynamic” fiscal analyses to better assess the true value of job-creation legislation, like tax credits. For a measure of accountability, legislative committees would resume traditional oversight responsibilities – holding hearings to assess the performance of state government in meeting the goals of California’s “jobs” agenda.
Doing his part to put things in motion, the Governor would issue an executive order instructing state agencies and departments to perform jobs-impact or economic-impact analyses before moving forward with new regulations or policy initiatives. Just for starters.
Besides the potential benefits from the lawmaking and policy-making, how do unhappy and performance-hungry voters benefit from this simple reform? They get the entirety of state government organized around and acting unambiguously each year on a specific objective – something they really care about. Attitudes out there seem to suggest voters haven’t seen that from their state government for a long time.
It shouldn’t take long or be too difficult to put a jobs plan for 2010 in motion. Indeed, the preamble is already written. It appears in Assembly Concurrent Resolution 83 by Assembly Member Dan Logue and says, among other things:
“[T]he Legislature calls upon every instrumentality of state government to immediately make the retention of existing private sector employment and the creation of new private sector employment its highest priority; and . . . the Legislature will itself take a leading role in restoring California’s business climate to a status that invites entrepreneurs and private sector employers and their employees to retain, locate, and create new jobs in California . . .”
So, let’s try it out – by making job creation California’s top priority in 2010 and sticking to it until we’re satisfied that it’s done.
Timothy L. Coyle is a Housing and Economic Development Consultant. For more, visit Fox & Hounds Daily.