California in Crisis: My Modest Budget Proposal


The great California budget deadlock of 2008 has now reached record territory. The business of the state has ground to a halt, programs aren’t able to move forward, schools are in disarray, people aren’t being paid – all because the governor and legislative leaders have boxed themselves into a corner. It is easy to say it represents a new low in California politics. It’s harder to say what the long-term solution might be.

Over dinner tonight, a friend of mine, a former state senator, suggested a constitutional convention. “We need to rethink everything,” he said. “We need to rethink how we elect people, the initiative process, the two-thirds vote. Everything.”

I suggested the solution was in my book “Straight Talk.” The key, I said, is that the players need to agree on the process up front. They need clear ground rules, and there needs to be a neutral facilitator. One of the ground rules should be that legislators and staff don’t get paid once the deadline expires. Another should be that no one can take a hard position in advance. For example, no signed statements against a tax increase or against a particular funding category. Another rule should be that lawmakers agree to support whatever budget comes out of the process.

“Do you really think it would work?” he asked.

“Yes, it would, if everyone agreed that the status quo is unacceptable.”

“Ah,” he said, ” I knew there was a catch!”

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