After being involved in this year’s budget negotiations, a lot of people have been asking for my opinion of what went wrong. I haven’t said much before now because I spent all of my time trying to work on the details of a solution, rather than attacking people in the press. Even after setbacks and frustrations, I remained quiet because I saw no value in fighting with the people I needed to work with on a deal. But now that it’s over, I’ve spent some time reflecting, and I want my constituents to hear my views on it, they deserve to know.
Every year budget negotiations in the California Legislature are characterized by bombast, empty threats, populist grandstanding, ego, and a healthy amount of spin. But it appeared this year might be different with Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign promise of “no new taxes without a vote of the people,” and it being the first year after the passage of Prop 25 that promised “no on-time, balanced budget, no pay for legislators.” Perhaps naively, I held some sincere hope that things would be different this year due to these factors and that we could come together to find a compromise that would benefit all Californians. I was disappointed to find that the same old factors that have frustrated budget deals in the past once again prevailed. I think the Governor also underestimated how much this place has changed since the last time he worked here, and how partisan it has become.
When the Governor first mentioned his interest in spending, pension, and regulatory reform as part of a budget package, I was encouraged. I spent my time trying to work on the details of a solution I could support. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like the idea of putting taxes on the ballot any more than the next Republican. But for the possibility of a real spending cap that would pay down debt, pension reform that could curb abuses, and regulatory reform that could fundamentally change bureaucracy in our State, in addition to some of the statutory reforms I was seeking for the Valley, I had to come to the table. Besides, as I always say, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
Unfortunately, suffice it to say that not everyone involved in the negotiations was as committed to finding a solution and providing specifics as I was. Despite my pleas, we didn’t get into real specifics until it was far too late, and even then, I can’t be sure there was sincerity to close a deal. I was reminded that although I wanted to reach an agreement, legislating is a team sport and requires the cooperation of many people.
In the end, I can’t speculate on the motives of why certain people may not have dealt in good faith, I can only join my constituents in lamenting that it failed. It appeared we had an opportunity to really change things.
But I remain hopeful that we’ve established some basic agreement on the need for some of these vital reforms, and perhaps there will be an opportunity in the future to put something together that will benefit California, reform our government, and get the economy moving again. Some people may say that I am still naïve for holding out hope, but I believe that is what my district sent me up here for, so I will continue to pursue those opportunities with the same vigor as my first year, but now with a little better understanding of the pitfalls along the way.