State of California needs spending, pension reform
On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement halting negotiations with me and other Republican senators over how best to fix California’s broken budget process, reform public pensions and cap state government spending.
While I was part of a group of Republican senators fighting to end gridlock, it was inappropriate for me at the time to provide the back-story of how I came to accept the governor’s invitation to fix California. Given that the governor ended our negotiations, it’s now time for some reflection.
During Brown’s election last year, he made it clear that he wanted to bring change to Sacramento, and he was willing to risk his well-earned political capital to get it done.
In his January State of the State address, Brown urged us to “struggle with our conscience and our constituencies” in order to “hammer out a sensible plan to put our state on a sound fiscal footing, honestly balance our budget and position California to regain its historic momentum.”
During his unprecedented February appearance before the Conference Committee on the Budget, on which I serve, Brown told us that both parties needed to get out of their “comfort zone.” He issued this challenge: “Give me some ideas. And do you have some reforms you want to make? Some things the Democrats don’t like? Let’s hear what they are.”
In fact, the governor referenced me personally during his remarks indicating that he knew I had some reforms I wanted to fight for.
Because I believed our new governor possessed the courage and the credibility to stand up to the public employee labor unions, I accepted his invitation.
My critics on the right, some of whom will never support me, will say that I betrayed their interests by even entertaining a conversation with their partisan enemy.
Our crisis is too big for me to stand by and do nothing but throw stones, hold press conferences and demagogue on talk radio.
My critics on the left, some of whom fought hard to defeat me, lecture me that because Democrats control every constitutional office and both houses of the state Legislature, Republicans just need to get out of their way.
I say the arrogance bred by long-term power has resulted in out-of-control government spending and a pension system fraught with abuse and on the verge of financial breakdown.
It may be a bit dramatic to say that my choice to meet with the governor would end my short time in office.
It is fair to say, however, that I had to come to grips with the very real threat of recall spurred by the likes of radio hosts John and Ken and their quest for fun and higher ratings and for those on the far right who share the Democrats’ hope that Republicans remain irrelevant.
As a conservative, I’m never going to view my ideas about reducing the size and scope of government as irrelevant.
If the voters were going to be asked to increase their taxes, I think they should have been given the ability to vote for a spending cap and pension reform.
The spending cap we fought for would have limited government spending and remained in effect until California’s budgetary debt was repaid and moved us toward building a rainy-day reserve fund.
Moreover, it not only protected education funding, but it paid back past debts to our schools, fulfilling our commitment to our children’s future.
Our pension reform sought to control pension costs and end abuses such as pension spiking and double dipping. The March 2011 survey conducted by the independent Public Policy Institute of California reported that 71 percent of Californians support a 401(k)-style pension plan for government employees — and most noteworthy, so did 56 percent of government employees.
California has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, and CNBC ranks our state as the 49th least business-friendly among 50. We sought changes to our regulatory system to put people back to work and encourage investment in our state.
In the end, this was all too much for the labor unions to swallow. Their power rests with their ability to finance elections, and Brown was counting on them to fund a special election to pass his tax extensions.
Democrat legislative leaders like to remind us that the voters elected Jerry Brown governor last November and they’re right. Unfortunately, the true power in Sacramento lies with unelected bodies that seek to preserve the status quo.
I’m disappointed the governor halted our negotiations and I know he is also. I have only the highest regard for Brown and I know for a fact that he shares my belief that meaningful reforms will return California to its glory. Anything short will only perpetuate our crisis.
Although our conversation had run its course, I’m still committed to pursuing reforms that will fix California and put people back to work.