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Lawmakers: Stick to Your Principles
Don’t be distracted from fiscal sanity…

[by Jon Coupal] 3/14/06

So the Democrat leaders in the California Legislature, Fabian Nunez and Don Perata, want the governor to put pressure on Assembly Republicans to support their version of an infrastructure bond package. "He is the leader of the Republicans," Núñez said of Schwarzenegger. "One would think the governor has the responsibility of getting the Republicans on board to support whatever views he negotiates with the Legislature." As usual, the speaker fails to grasp the fundamentals of representative democracy.

Jon Coupal

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

California Civics Lesson Number 1: The two-thirds vote in each house for state-wide bond measures is there for a reason. This is long-term debt that our children and grandchildren will be paying for decades. Since 1879 (no, it didn't start with Prop. 13 in 1978) supermajorities have been required for bonds for this very reason. The gravity and consequences of assuming debt are such that a broader consensus is required as a matter of policy. Given the amount of debt involved and California's precarious budget situation (the never-ending structural deficit) a broad consensus is needed now more than ever.

California Civics Lesson Number 2: Democrats were elected by their constituents and Republicans by theirs. Republicans, by and large, were elected on grounds of fiscal conservatism. Why should they be asked to abandon their constituents and principles for a bond package simply because we're all in a hurry? It is far better to get this done right the first time.

Californians have already suffered enough from fiscal policies that were not well thought out. We all remember that during the dot-com boom conservatives predicted that runaway spending by the majority party would lead to fiscal ruin. After the state racked up a deficit larger than the entire state budgets of virtually ever other state in America, who can deny that they were proven right?

Not only were Republicans correct on the budget crisis, but years ago they proposed a plan to use a small portion of the huge increase in tax revenue to go to infrastructure. This modest proposal -- which took no revenue away from existing programs -- didn't get off the ground because of the insatiable appetite of those in power and their special interest constituents.

As to the current debate, Republicans have demanded that the infrastructure package include long overdue reforms to ensure that taxpayer dollars are actually used to finance infrastructure, i.e., concrete and steel. What a novel concept. Policies on design/build, labor reform, CEQA waivers and some element of pay-as-you-go financing should be the starting point, not an afterthought, if we are serious about improving our roads, dams and levies. Additionally, the governor's proposed six percent cap on debt should be non-negotiable and, indeed, tightened to include debt that has most of the characteristics of general obligation debt.

The $64 billion question (give or take a dozen billion either way) is whether the Republicans in the Assembly will stand together to defend these reforms that are so badly needed.

The Republican Assembly Caucus has been distracted by Congressman Bill Thomas's announced retirement and subsequent announcement by Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he will run for the seat. Under new leader George Plescia, Republican lawmakers cannot afford to break stride. For the sake of all Californians, those embracing fiscal sanity must maintain as their first priority ensuring that the infrastructure package is linked inextricably to meaningful reforms. There will, of course, be eleventh-hour enticements offered to fiscally responsible lawmakers to lure them into breaking ranks and joining those whose goal is unconditional spending. Taxpayers are counting on members to do the right thing and just say "no" to a betrayal of sound financial principles. CRO

copyright 2006 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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