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No one goes back to Sacramento

Posted: August 1, 2009 5:42 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Hey, boys and girls. How would you like to clear a quarter-million dollars a year, more than half of it tax free?

As long as you're over age 17, you can. There are no other minimum requirements. Just make sure you check the "R" or "D" box when you register to vote.

Then all you do is file for a seat in the state Assembly or Senate and let some special interests and party bosses tell you how to think and what to do.

They'll handle the rest and make you win.

You won't have to write your own talking points. You don't even have to be able to spell.

Any idiot can do it.

In California, plenty of idiots are doing it.

Don't worry about having to perform once you're in sworn in. Those same special interests and party bosses will take care of you and make sure your constituents keep on loving you and sending you back to Sacramento.

That's where your new office is, just so you know. But don't sweat it. The state will buy you a car and plenty of gas so you can go home on weekends.

Now, you're going to hear a lot of numbers when you get there. Don't let them distract you. Numbers are just numbers. They aren't real, and no two of those fancy-pants "experts" can ever agree on them anyway.

If somebody tells you numbers affect real people, don't believe it. If push comes to shove, a simple diversion should get you out of trouble.

Blame somebody else. Blame everybody else.

Just make sure you only blame the "Ds" if you checked the "R" box when you registered to vote, and the "Rs" if you check the "D" box.

See, it's like this. You know your pet projects? Those things your neighbors say they want, like new roads and more schools? Well, your pet projects are good.

Everybody else's pet projects are bad. Everybody else wants to waste money on "bridges to nowhere," and they wouldn't need more schools if they would just do a better job of teaching kids and improving their test scores.

That might not make sense, but say it anyway. Your voters will believe you. We promise.

The only real downside is that every few months, those numbers are going to keep you awake nights. Not because you need to understand them, but because you need to be physically present to vote when your party bosses schedule one of their marathon budget sessions.

You don't need to know what's going on. You don't even need to know what day it is.

Heck, by the time they got done voting a week ago, the Assembly speaker - a woman named Karen Bass who had checked the "D" box when she ran and who does get to talk a lot - didn't know "if it's afternoon, evening or night," and then added she didn't "exactly know where the economy is going right now," anyway.

If you're truly bored while you're waiting for somebody else to deal with the budget numbers, you can occupy your time with hearings on your pet projects.

Why, just a few weeks ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger - yes, the guy from the "Terminator" movies, who must have forgotten he checked the "R" box after he was elected governor - got all mad when a group of lawmakers took up a discussion of cow tails.

It seems there is a practice among California dairy farmers to lop off the tails of milk cows, lest the milkers get hit in the head when they hook up the milking machines.

If you were a cow, you'd probably do the same thing if someone did that to you, and that's a fine debate to have - but the Terminator guy thought it was the wrong time to talk about it.

He said he thought those lawmakers should be dealing with more important things now, like the budget that has a multi-billion dollar deficit.

He didn't really mean it. It was just a diversion. He was between a rock and a hard place - the rock being his party bosses' refusal to raise taxes; if he had checked the "D" box he would not have had this problem - and the hard place being the cuts he didn't want to make.

He didn't want people from places like the SCV Senior Center to yell at him for wiping out programs like Adult Day Care.

So, he changed the discussion. He blamed those lowly, bored lawmakers for wasting time so people wouldn't notice he took a three-year sabbatical from his pledge to overhaul the entire bureaucratic system and stop these budget shenanigans once and for all.

So the budget shenanigans continue. California's constitution - that's the thing we change at the ballot box so frequently nobody knows what it says anymore - requires a balanced budget.

Shame on us voters for telling those in Sacramento that they can't spend more money than the state collects in tax revenue.

But like we said, numbers are just numbers. They aren't real. You can play with them and make them balance, like the party bosses did this past June 30 when they made $1.2 billion disappear simply by delaying the state payroll until July 1 (the start of the new fiscal year).

The fact that this adds $1.2 billion to the current budget will be ignored by everyone until next June 30.

That's on top of taking money from cities and counties and special districts, like the $4 million they'll "borrow" from the city of Santa Clarita, as if they'll be able to pay it back some day.

We'd call it borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, but you probably don't know who they are, so we won't get into it.

Those were just a couple of tricks among many. These guys are good. All told, they fudged on $10 billion to $20 billion. Nobody knows how much for sure because they're just numbers.

If you think they're just delaying the problem and it will come back to bite them next year, you're right - but our lawmakers have shown for years they don't think like that.

They also don't seem to care that their constituents (us) will suffer because the numbers don't really balance.

Take the William S. Hart Union High School District, for example. It took about a $32 million hit over the past two years and is expecting another $14 million cut in January.

Administrators already know they'll need to consider salary reductions, benefit cuts, class reductions, and classroom-size increases and worker furloughs.

Lawmakers are not terribly unlike most of us. They're certainly no better than us. They hear what they want to hear and tune out the rest.

They probably even believe most of the stuff that comes out of their mouths.

And we cheer and throw money at them when they say what we think we want to hear.

The difference between the current crop of lawmakers and the rest of us is that they've had their shot and they've blown it.

Maybe it's time to ratchet up the basic minimum requirements. Maybe it's time to change that unwieldy constitution yet again with a ballot measure that says if you've served in any other elected office, say a school board or city council, and you failed, even once, to pass a balanced budget on time, you're barred from the Assembly and Senate for life.

Certainly we can all think of more requirements, like independent thought, accountability and the novel concept of no new laws until the top priority of passing a balanced budget is met.

In the meantime, we need to send the clearest message possible. No incumbent goes back. Throw them all out of office and start over. Nobody is immune. Every last one of them goes. Including our own.

We can already hear all the arguments. We lose all that institutional knowledge. Without seniority, who will be the party leaders? All the power will end up with staffers, who are not elected and therefore not accountable.

And many others.

Our response: We could not be any worse off than the absolute debacle and abdication of responsibilities that we witness repeatedly in Sacramento as we send incumbents back year after year.

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