Sunday, July 3, 2011


I've been watching the debacle that is the California budget process from Israel.  As a lobbyist, the fights over the budget were always challenging and intense and often frustrating.  Long hours, tough negotiations, short tempers. 

Now, out of the fray and watching from 9,000 miles away, things back in the Golden State, or at least in the capital of the Golden State, just seem, well, sad.  Pathetic.  I am not sure if things have gotten significantly worse since my last budget process in 2009, although several former colleagues say they have, or whether  time and distance give one another perspective. 

The bottom line is a state with unbelieveable human and natural resources with a Legislature unable to reach an agreement on how to balance its books and prepare for the future. Yes, the Legislature finally adopted a budget, but one without any Republican votes and with some very detrimental cuts if $4 billion in new revenues do not materialize, which is likely. 

In the "old days," i.e. before this year, the budget fight probably would have gone on much beyond the start of the July 1 fiscal year.  However, the Democrats shot themselves in the foot.  They recently put on the ballot and got the voters to pass an initiative that allows a majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.  To sweeten the deal for voters, they inserted a clause saying that their pay would be forfeited for any days that a balanced budget is not adopted beyond the new fiscal year.

This may have been a worthwhile deal from the Democrats' perspective if they had also given themselves the right to pass new taxes to fund the budget by a majority vote.  But, for whatever reason, the most probable of which is that it would not have passed, they neglected to do that.  So, they stuck themselves with the choice to pass a budget with unpopular cuts without any Republicans joining in or the prospect of forfeiting their pay.  Genius.

More importantly, as a result of years of budget woes and political stalemate, California is a state sadly in need of repair.  Its once vaunted educational system is sorely deficient in many aspects.  Its tremendous university and college systems have been continuously cutting programs and raising tuition.  Its roads and highways are a challenge to the best shock absorbers and the sturdiest backs around.

Israel and the Middle East are not exactly without problems, to put it mildly.  But, from here, California, while not dealing with existential issues (or is it?), nonetheless looks like a bit of a basket case.  And its image is severely tarnished. 

When I told Israelis and tourists visiting here in the past that I was from California, it most often prompted a smile, a bit of envy, and a positive comment about the weather, the coastline, hi-tech, or Hollywood.  More recently the comments have been "Isn't California bankrupt?"  "What's happening with the state?" and the very popular "Is that scumbag (or asshole) Schwarzenegger still governor?"

Sad indeed.


  1. Alan, My father, may he rest in peace, always said that politics was the art of comprise. Apparently the art is no longer practiced and now we are faced with ideology substituting for thinking, compromise, or logic of any kind. Instead we help a first class public institution, the UC system, to become privatized with enrollment for California residents limited so that non-residents can be accepted because they pay higher tuition and fees. As a taxpayer, this among other things is outrageous.
    You are missing some 100+ temperatures.
    Mike Singer

  2. The more things change the more they remain the same. California defines the term "dysfuntional."