On Tuesday, Feb. 17, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laid off 20,000 state employees. This is the latest tourniquet applied by Sacramento to stop California from financially bleeding to death.
As the nation struggles with the recession, states are tackling their own monetary woes. California, with over 36 million people and a $41 billion budget deficit, appears to be suffering worst of all.
Already, Schwarzenegger has ordered mandatory one-day unpaid furloughs per month for over 200,000 state employees.
Unemployment throughout the Golden State is at 8.7 percent, above the national average.
Countless public works sit abandoned, rusting in the winter rain. California has lost nearly all of its access to credit lenders, almost unheard-of for a state and an embarrassing downturn for the world’s eighth-largest economy.
When Californians tear open envelopes from Sacramento expecting to see their income tax refunds, they’ll find an I.O.U. staring them in the face.
High foreclosure rates and waning tax revenues are a large part of the problem. But the biggest issue lies in the state’s constitution.
Constitutionally, the state must pass a balanced budget each fiscal year. The 2008-2009 budget was due on June 15, 2008. Lawmakers are still hammering it out.
Part of the budget plan proposed by Democrats, the majority party, includes $14.4 billion in tax hikes, which would bring much-needed revenue to the state’s coffers.
Republicans, sticking to their tried-and-failed economic bread and butter, don’t want to see any tax increases and are blocking the Democrats’ plan, leaving California without a budget. Without a budget, workers can’t be paid. Herein lies the cause of the layoffs, unpaid vacation days and indefinite hiatus for all state-sponsored projects.
No one wants to pay more taxes, but we are in desperate times.
One would think that, with a majority in the State Assembly and Senate, Democrats could override any Republican naysayers, just as the national Democratic Congress and Senate have done with the stimulus package.
Unfortunately, Article 13A of the California Constitution requires a two-thirds “supermajority” for all tax laws passed by both houses of the Legislature.
Only two other states, Rhode Island and Arkansas, have a two-thirds provision.
Currently, 24 Democrats and 15 Republicans compose the Senate, and the breakdown in the Assembly is 51 to 29, respectively.
With these numbers, and under normal circumstances, Democrats theoretically could pass any bill they like. However, with the two-thirds provision, it takes just two senators and six assemblymembers to hijack a vote.
It looked like a deal was close to completion over Valentine’s Day weekend, but two Republican senators changed their minds at the last minute. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans ousted their minority leader, Dave Cogdill of Modesto, in favor of Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta.
Cogdill was prepared to accept the budget plan, tax hikes and all, which was forged over three hard months of negotiating and conceding from both sides.
Senate Republicans, stubbornly sticking to their guns, held a private caucus in the middle of the night and elected Hollingsworth, a stringent opponent of raising taxes. Subsequently, the plan did not pass, and Republicans want to restart from square one.
They seem hell-bent on getting their way, regardless of the nightmare they are causing to the state’s infrastructure, health care, education, and hard-working citizens.
Republicans, now under Hollingsworth, haven’t offered any alternative solutions.
It seems they only want to remain the party of obstruction and completely disregard the welfare of the state.
Sacramento is on virtual lockdown until a supermajority is reached. Democrats may be forced to make even more concessions to appease Republicans and get the votes needed to balance the budget. However, just balancing it without raising taxes will not get California functioning properly in the long run.
And with the 2009-2010 budget due by June 15 of this year, it looks as though this whole mess is destined for a repeat.
The two-thirds provision has become a power play for a minority party, and is hurting our state. It is a backwards policy, detrimental to our future, and must be abolished. We implore the Assembly and Senate to revise the California Constitution before we find ourselves in even deeper and darker waters.
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