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Bill Leonard - Contributor

Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization

A Week Under the Dome
Budget Question, Bustamante's Blunder, Wisdom to Wesson, Radical Ideas...

[Bill Leonard] 1/12/04

The Basic Budget Question

I had just a couple simple questions about the Governor’s budget proposal that came out on Friday, so I looked at every budget story I could find int he newspapers. No answers there, but lots of stories about slashing cuts. I went to the Department of Finance web site and waded through pages and pages of information. My question that nobody seemed to want to answer was this: How much money did the state take in last year versus this year and how much are we spending last year versus this year? It is the basic question that every family and every business has to ask in order to even start making a budget.

The best that I can find is this: During the 2003-2004 year, which isjust half over, we are spending at the rate of $75 billion a year and we are taking in $74.6 billion so we are still spending more money than we have and have to resort to borrowing.

During the 2004-2005 year, which is the first Schwarzenegger budget, we are proposing to spend $79 billion-- a $4 billion INCREASE in spending-- and we are expecting $76 billion in revenue. To buy time to bring the expenditures under control, the Governor is proposing borrowing.

Those who wail and moan about the state budget must acknowledge that spending continues to increase. Revenues are not increasing fast enough to keep up with this insatiable demand. Governor Schwarzenegger has wisely said that his borrowing proposal is a one-time measure to give the Legislature time to bring things into balance or to give the people time to vote in the changes themselves.

Bustamante’s Blunder

If Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante had continued his rude lecturing of Governor Schwarzenegger at the State of the State address for another 30seconds, I think legislators would have rushed the podium to remove him. The Lt. Governor used what was to be a brief introduction of the Governor to make his own campaign speech. It was rude and classless. I do not begrudge people from presenting their own opinions, but they should do itat their own event. The restlessness among legislators of both parties as Bustamante rambled on was visible. Like a skunk at the garden party, he could not leave fast enough, and I was so taken aback by his tone that I cannot remember what he said.

Wisdom to Wesson

I told Speaker Wesson that he missed an opportunity for a great inside joke. Last year Senate Pro Tempore John Burton was noticeably absent from Governor Davis's State of the State address. So Speaker Wesson introduced the Lt. Governor instead of introducing the Senate leader. When pressed by reporters later, Burton reported that traffic from San Francisco to Sacramento was unduly heavy and his arrival was delayed. He said this with a twinkle in his eye and nobody believed the story. This year Senator Burton was present and did his customary duty of introducing the Lt. Governor. Speaker Wesson should have taken public notice that the traffic on I-80 was light enough this year that Burton could attend Schwarzenegger's first State of the State address.

No Perks Here

Sometimes the perks of office are not all they are cracked up to be. I was honored to be included again in the State of the State tradition that includes Board of Equalization members being introduced to the audience and given a seat at the front of the Assembly chamber. However, my seat faced the legislators not the Governor and I was tucked below the rostrum so that I could not see the Governor even when I turned around. I listened to the Governor from a few feet away, but I watched him on an eight-inch television set that Assembly Chief Clerk Dotson Wilson had at the clerk's station. Thanks, Dotson, for the TV.

Were You Listening?

Of all the legislators in the Assembly chambers Tuesday evening listening to the Governor deliver his address, there were 23 Democrats who should have been paying particular attention. These 23 represent districts that voted for the Republican governor, despite having been drawn as “safe” Democrat seats. The voters in these areas are more likely to heed the Governor’s call to action and hold their Democrat Assembly members’ feet tote fire on the reforms for which the Governor is calling.

Patty Berg, 1st District, Santa Rosa Barbara A. Matthews, 17th District, Stockton Rebecca Cohn, 24th District, Campbell Simon Salinas, 28th District, Salinas Nicole Parra, 30th District, Bakersfield Hannah-Beth Jackson 35th District, Santa Barbara Cindy Montañez, 39th District, Mission Hills Lloyd E. Levine, 40th District, Van Nuys Fran Pavley, 41st District, Woodland Hills Dario Frommer 43rd District, Glendale Carol Liu, 44th District, Pasadena Judy Chu, 49th District, Monterey Park George Nakano, 53rd District, Torrance Alan Lowenthal, 54th District, Long Beach Jenny Oropeza, 55th District, Carson Rudy Bermudez, 56th District, Norwalk Ed Chavez, 57th District, Industry Ronald S. Calderon, 58th District, Montebello Gloria Negrete McLeod, 61st District, Pomona John Longville, 62nd District, San Bernardino Lou Correa, 69th District, Santa Ana Christine Kehoe, 76th District, San Diego Juan Vargas, 79th District, Chula Vista


Radical Ideas

The Governor has asked legislators and state employees for ideas for improving state government and of those ideas, he said, “the more radical, the better.” I invite Leonard Letter readers to submit your radical ideas for reforming the state. I will feature some of them here and I will compile a list for the Governor’s review.

The first radical idea comes in a memo from my father, William E. Leonard, former chairman of both the State Highway Commission and the California Transportation Commission. He writes:

“I keep asking myself: why is Caltrans now staffed at over 23,000employees when in the 1950s and ‘60s it only took 12,000 employees to build the freeway backbone system that was the envy of the world? In those days the local transportation agencies, for the most part, were the local chambers of commerce. The Highway Commission visited the county seats and major cities to get their input on needs. Obviously, this was at no cost to the state. Now we have over 70 transportation agencies.”

He suggests, and I concur, that as part of the Governor’s comprehensive review of state government practices and agencies, we ask the following questions and take the following actions:

1. What is Caltrans doing now that they didn’t do in the early years with a much reduced staff?

2. What activities now being performed by Caltrans can be eliminated, streamlined or passed on to the regional transportation agencies? For those that are mandated by the Legislature and don’t add to the integrity of the transportation system, propose legislation that will eliminate them. For those that are mandated by previous votes of the electorate or mandated by judicial action, place before the electorate initiatives to make the process more efficient for the purpose of providing adequate and efficient surface transportation projects. Don’t mix up transportation needs with social agendas.

3. Give to the regional transportation agencies a portion of the current state fuel tax, subject to a review of their policies and procedures, that would prove a better use of those funds. In the process of removing functions from Caltrans, cap the number of employees on the payroll. A removal of 8,000-10,000 personnel would do wonders in streamlining the organization. Possibly the only activities that Caltrans would keep would be maintenance and safety projects on the mainline system, plus the funneling of federal funds to the individual transportation agencies.”

Easier Tax Increases?

Bill Hauck, Chairman of the California Business Roundtable and the chair of the Constitutional Revision Commission on which I served, has pointed out the overriding flaw in Proposition 56: that it guarantees major tax increases. The discussion on making it easier to pass budgets is really a false issue. The true question being asked of the voters is: how easy should it be to raise taxes?

You can read his piece in the Sacramento Bee.




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