Strange things happen when the clock strikes midnight…
You all may recall that a little over a week ago word had spread that finally a State Budget Deal had been reached by the “Big 5” in Sacramento. 100 days overdue but the baby was finally arriving!
The Speakers Office issued the official Email summoning all Assembly members to report to the State Capitol for Floor Session on Thursday October 7th. This was good news. The sticking points had apparently been ironed out. We could meet with our budget team, walk through the agreed upon details in all 28 ( /-) of the budget bills and get this budget done! (and then immediately start worrying about the next budget).
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol. Seemed that not all of the details had been thoroughly worked out by the time we arrived to start discussing the details in advance of our floor debate and votes. In fact well over half of the 20 budget bills had not even been printed yet for review by our budget team – much less all of the Legislators who were now expected to vote on them.
When I walked out to my desk on the Assembly floor, I honestly had no idea just how bad the day was going to be with regards to respecting and advancing Good Government practices. It was truly a (Not-So) Good-Government disaster in the making.
Within short order we were being asked to vote on budget bills that were now either piling up on our desk – or did not exist as yet. I wasted little time in expressing my frustration when the floor discussions began.
Several websites reported selections from my floor speech:
“I can’t tell you what’s in this budget,” said Assemblymember Kevin Jeffries, who said he has had very little opportunity to review the budget bill which spans three volumes. “This is not an example of open and transparent government,” reported the Public Policy research firm Kersten Communications.
The Orange County Register also qouted a portion of my comments: “We talk about open and transparent government, and yet we haven’t had 30 minutes, an hour, to digest all of this – a multi-billion (dollar) decision.”
As the evening progressed, we (Republicans, Democrats and one Independent) actually found ourselves being asked to vote on some bills that were not in print, had not been seen by the public or media, and were only hastily posted on our computer screens as “mock-ups” (drafts) to read and vote at the same time. Many of the votes were occurring between midnight and the sun rising the next morning – conveniently when the taxpaying public was asleep and most of the media had gone home. Just imagine the public and media outcry if your local city council or county supervisors conducted their budget meeting and votes in this manner! Several times I was ready to walk off the floor and return to my office to question my sanity. I guess that’s why we were literally “locked” in the Assembly Chamber and could not leave.
This kind of behavior is why I introduced ACA 8 and ACA 31 this past session, and will reintroduce the reforms again on the first day we are back in session in December. ACA 8 would have required that all legislation be in print at least 24 hours before a vote could be taken on the bill, and ACA 31 would have prohibited midnight sessions, requiring that all votes occur between 9am and 9pm when the public and their watchdogs can actually see what is happening. Neither bill even got a hearing in Sacramento, but I will not stop fighting this battle.
I know that I’m sent to Sacramento to make the best decisions I can on your behalf. I take that responsibility very seriously. However the lack of timely details, the rush of last minute amendments, the reports of new deals being cut (including removing one of the state’s largest government employee unions from his pension reforms that were still going to impact public safety personnel), and on occasion the complete failure to provide us with any written details of some bills did cause me to either Oppose or Abstain on numerous budget bills (my wife says that I get a little stubborn on occasion – I of course disagree). To be sure, I did support about a dozen bills that I felt would either help fix some of our on-going budget problems or help in some small way with our economy.
With millions of Californians still out of work, and hundreds of small and large businesses still leaving the State at a record pace – I remain unwavering in my opinion that not enough is being done to turn our state around and get our state government and its crushing regulatory bureaucracy under control.
A dysfunctional Legislature that is NOT united in stopping the flight of good paying private sector jobs to other states, and seems unwilling to take on the powerful bureaucracy – will simply continue to chase its own tail with half-baked budget solutions and ineffective reforms.
We need to stop the midnight votes. We need to drill down into every state agency and every state program and question the effectiveness and purpose of every hard-earned taxpayer dollar that is spent. We need to start listening to the suggestions of successful business owners about what it will take to keep and create jobs in California. We need to put a leash on our bureaucrats and our regulators. We need our teachers to be free of Sacramento mandates and union directives. We need to move more government services out of Sacramento and back to local government. In short – what we really need is for our government to be truly accountable to the people and to put some good ol’ fashioned common sense back in our State Capitol.
Am I asking for too much?