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Governor should convene a budget revision panel
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A "Budget Revision Panel" is indeed an interesting concept. I, for one, have been deeply frustrated with this year's budget process, or shall I say, lack of process. If the process had truly followed the design set forth in the California State Constitution, then it's feasible to believe that there would have been a state budget presented from the Legislature to the governor by the June 15 deadline. Thanks to a game of politics, rather than focusing on the people impacted by the budget, the budget was delayed for more than 52 days impacting vital state services.

On August 22, I submitted a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting under the auspices of bi-partisanship, that he convene a "Budget Revision Panel" to address the current budget process and how the process is not being followed as stated in the California Constitution.

The governor initially did his job by presenting a budget in January and then his annual revise in May. At that time, the budget should have gone to the Budget Conference Committee and serious negotiations should have begun. Details should have been hammered out and a bill should have been presented in both houses in late May or early June for an initial vote. If it was not approved at that point, negotiations should have continued until an agreement was reached. However, it did not happen this way. Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, who decides which bills are brought up for consideration, never even brought up the budget bill until July, clearly past the budget deadline. Of course, it didn't pass by the deadline if it hasn't even brought up for a vote. Clearly, this was not the minority party holding up the process.

In order for this budget impasse not to occur in the future, I believe that California needs to put some real teeth into the Constitutional deadlines. It begins by holding the legislators accountable to meet the June 15 deadline. If a budget has not been sent to the governor by this deadline, then both houses should be required to remain in session around the clock until an agreement is reached. Legislators should not get paid during the stalemate and not be allowed to recoup this money once a budget is passed. And, if an agreement can't be reached by July 1, then California needs to step up to the plate and formalize a process for automatic emergency appropriation payments. Senator Ken Maddy authored legislation in 1998 that helped keep the state running, while negotiations continued. I had similar legislation this year, which was ignored by the majority party. The State of California must continue to function and protect those who need funding, even if the Legislature can't agree on a state budget.

I do also believe that this process needs to begin in January. California should require the Legislative Analyst to be the determining official as to whether the Governor has submitted a true balanced budget in January. If it is determined that the budget is not balanced, then the governor would have to resubmit a budget that was truly balanced and during this budget revision period, the governor's pay would be cut. (this would not work with Governor Schwarzenegger as he does not accept a salary, but it might impact future governors.)

Shortly after the governor's balanced budget is introduced in January, and certified as balanced by the LAO, the Budget Conference Committee hearing process should begin. I realize that not all items can be finalized that far out, but many of the true negotiations need to begin sooner rather than later in order to find a budget that more Californians can be proud of.

I believe that the Budget Conference Committee system must be strengthened. It starts by increasing membership of the committee to 10 legislators, five from each house and at least two minority party members from each house. Each minority party caucus would then choose their own conferees rather than having this positions appointed by the majority party as they have in the past. Most importantly, I believe that the vote threshold of this committee needs to be changed to 2/3. If the Budget Conference Committee was put together as suggested, and it required a two-thirds vote to pass a budget before it went back to the Senate and Assembly Floors, many of the budget hang-ups could be resolved earlier.

Californians deserves an on-time balanced budget that protects both public safety and education funding.

I believe the changes to the budget process I suggested can help ensure this.