by Todd Beeton, Mon Feb 23, 2009 at 05:12:08 PM EST
In his post on Why California is Dying, dday made the case that California's budget crisis is one of process, not personality and that laying blame for the lack of leadership in Sacramento is actually beside the point. On Friday I spoke to Democratic Lieutenant Governor of California John Garamendi, who is running to succeed Governor Schwarzenegger in next year's election, and he made it quite clear that while we need to once and for all fix California's structural budgetary problems, it should not go unnoticed that the budget we got in last week's deal is itself a function of the lack of leadership on the part of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republicans in Sacramento.
In a repeat of his dramatic phrasing from his MSNBC interview last week, Garamendi told me he feels the budget deal that was passed is a result of a "Republican infection." Specifically, he blamed Arnold Schwarzenegger not only for his inability to rally Republicans to vote for a responsible budget, but, more importantly, his inability to rally Californians behind a plan to responsibly raise taxes.
Governor Schwarzenegger did not set the stage that would allow Republicans to vote for tax increases. [...]
For five years he kept saying "No new taxes, No new taxes," then in August he changed on that but he never went out to the state to explain and so allowed Republicans to remain in no tax modality.
So what we get in the new budget, Garamendi said, are regressive and short term tax increases that will "maintain or increase the volatility of the tax system" and make the increases more expensive in the long run. He went on:
We know that one of major reasons for the recession is people are not buying yet you raise the sales tax on stuff people would buy!? The Governor has turned to 2 of most volatile taxes in a down economy. Whatever the tax estimates are they will be lower.
A gas tax increase was cut from the budget deal in favor of sales and state income tax increases. For Garamendi, not only does this budget actually make California's budget mess worse but it kicks the can even further down the road after 5 years of inaction and doesn't deal with California's structural budget problems.
I asked Mr. Garamendi what structural reforms he would support. He named 3:
- 2/3 budget rule: Garamendi is in favor of a 55% state legislature vote threshold to pass a budget. Why not simple majority? "Political calculation. You have a better shot at 55% than you do at 50%." He would
notalso support revising the 2/3 rule as it pertains to raising taxes to 55%.
- Bi-cameral legislature: Currently, California has a state house and a state senate, each district of which is extremely unwieldy since, as population has grown, the number of seats has not. Garamendi is in favor of a unicameral legislature of 120 representatives representing more manageable districts.
- Term limits: Currently, state senators are allowed 2 4-year terms and members of the assembly are allowed 3 2-year terms. Garamendi believes that each state legislator should be allowed a maximum of 14 years (presumably, 7 2-year terms) in the one house of the state legislature.
As for how to go about making these reforms, Garamendi is opposed to a constitutional convention and instead would like to see a commission convened in order to put a few issues on the 2010 ballot.
It's a good idea but the California constitution is inconsistent and incomplete in how to form a constitutional convention. [...]
The work of the convention would be on 2012 ballot to go into effect in 2013. Great idea but I don't like the timeliness of it. Therefore I'd be in favor of a commission that could be formed very quickly and focus on very limited number of issues and put props on the ballot for the June 2010 election.
In our conversation Mr. Garamendi cast himself as a pragmatic reformer, as the guy who knows how Sacramento works and how to fix it. I did leave the conversation wondering, however, whether his oft-referenced pragmatism reflected an overabundance of caution in a time when, as at the national level, California is in dire need of bold action. It's clear that Garamendi is committed to many of the structural reforms we need (although I'm in favor of a simple majority to pass a budget) but as his campaign moves forward, I'd like to see him shoot higher.
Update [2009-2-24 11:49:21 by Todd Beeton]:Correction from the Lt. Governor's office, his 55% vote threshold would apply to both passing a budget and raising taxes. "To move this state forward we also have to address the necessary reforms to make California more governable, and that at least requires changing the two-thirds vote on taxes and the budget to 55 percent."