While many Californians are taking a summer vacation few would do so if it meant leaving a mission critical task undone or worse violated the law. But that is what California legislators are doing right now. The Legislature is on its summer break — although in an effort to improve their image Senate leader Darrell Steinberg tells his flock to be available within 24 hours notice if needed.
While the Legislature has missed the constitutional deadline to pass the annual budget and the state faces a $20 billion budget shortfall lawmakers are adopting the attitude of “Ho-hum just another deficit” and most have fled Sacramento to work on their tan or their reelection.
In a way we can’t blame them. They’ve already been told by their leaders that they might as well stay home. Assembly Speaker John Perez sent what was supposed to be a confidential memo to Democratic members ordering them not to negotiate on the budget. Said Perez “it is critical that the Democrats hold firm and not engage in any negotiation until the governor shows signs of reciprocation.”
Perez objects to the governor’s budget which reflects a substantial reduction in spending. However there is a problem with his logic and approach. The governor’s budget plan is in reality just a proposal. It is the job of the Legislature to respond. If there is disagreement lawmakers can and should make a counter proposal. By abrogating the responsibility to negotiate Perez injures all Californians.
The failure to pass a budget and deal with the deficit is not a theoretical problem. It means real pain for real people. Because of the Legislature’s inaction the governor has been compelled to order pay for state employees to be reduced to minimum wage. While many are critical of a system that has made California government workers the highest paid in all 50 states few would argue that the majority of state workers deserve no more than the minimum wage. Also those in the private sector who in good faith provide products and services to the state deserve to be paid with real money not IOUs.
Then there are the vulnerable in our society who are dependent on government programs. Don’t they deserve to know how they will be treated in this era of declining government revenues? And of course there are the taxpayers — usually the last group to receive respect from Sacramento — already bent nearly double under the burden of high taxes who want to know what kind of additional punishment may be dished out by lawmakers who do not understand that declining state revenues are the direct result of the declining incomes of those who pay the state’s bills.
Working on and passing the budget is the Legislature’s most important responsibility. Trying to balance the needs and desires of 38 million residents is not always easy but Californians expect no less than earnest effort.
There are no excuses. Members of the Senate and Assembly volunteer for these jobs and they are well compensated with high pay and benefits. The midst of a budget crisis is never the appropriate time for vacation.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.