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Bitter partisanship divides state
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When I stepped down as mayor of Ceres and arrived in Sacramento for my first term in the Senate this past December, I walked into the Capitol with no preconceived notions about the political wrangling and dissension that addressing California's massive challenges would cause.

I knew making the drastic cuts necessary to close a multibillion budget gap would cause pain to some of our state's most vulnerable populations. Raising even the specter of taxes would cause uproar among families and businesses already struggling to make ends meet in the midst of sky-rocketing unemployment and plummeting personal incomes.

What has astounded me about Sacramento politics, however, is the bitter partisanship dividing Republicans and Democrats and - worse still - the iron grip of powerful special-interest groups that defend the status quo and block California from making the fundamental changes necessary to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again in the future.

When Governor Brown proposed his January budget, he declared his intention to ask voters for more money by extending what were supposed to be temporary tax increases. But the choices he wanted to put on the ballot were incomplete; they failed to include any long-term fixes to California's structural problems.

California's persistent budget crisis is just one symptom of a larger epidemic of irresponsible government spending, coupled with a continued refusal to give companies the freedom to grow and hire workers. That's the reason four of my Republican colleagues and I asked Governor Brown and legislative Democrats to include on the ballot reforms that would address these problems.

We asked for a spending cap to force the state to live within its means, pay down state debt and build a rainy day fund, while still protecting education. We asked for pension reform to control costs and prevent pension spiking, while maintaining collective bargaining. We asked for economic growth measures to streamline processes for businesses and ensure regulations won't kill jobs.

To Governor Brown's credit, he was receptive to our ideas. However, finding agreement on these issues required an equal willingness from stakeholders on the other side to engage - a willingness that was disappointingly absent in our conversations. Ultimately, it was the influence of the public-employee unions and other powerful special-interest groups that tied the hands of the governor and legislative Democrats, scuttling any possibility of giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on these desperately needed reforms.

Still, my commitment to addressing these challenges head-on has not wavered. I'll continue to press for these important reforms because I believe it's my responsibility to do what's best for the people I serve - and that means working to build a better future for my state.

But until the stakeholders and special-interest groups on the other side demonstrate a willingness to join us at the table, schools, hospitals and families are facing the possibility of even tougher, deeper cuts with little hope things will get better next year or the year after that. And our state's future looks all the bleaker as a result.