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Walter Watson: Our state needs to change its ways

SCV Voices

Posted: August 29, 2009 7:04 p.m.
Updated: August 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.

On Aug. 14, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced that Reform California may begin collecting petition signatures for two measures designed to rewrite California's Constitution.

 
Prop 13's protection of homeowners must be incorporated into any new state constitution.

There are some other changes I'd like to see.

First, cut the number of senators from the current 40 to just nine and have one-third of them elected at large by the entire California electorate every six years.

Require a minimum age for senators to be 55, and they must be a resident of California for the preceding 20 years.

This will attract experienced individuals who are familiar with California's problems and opportunities and provide stability of a senior body of elected officials.

Reduce the number of Assembly members from the current 80 to 21 and elect all of them every four years.

This effectively reduces the Legislature by 75 percent with resultant cost savings.

An added benefit would be more efficient debate and less time to propose and pass legislation of dubious merit.

The staff per legislator could remain at the current ratio (thus providing a 75-percent cost cut).

Establish Assembly districts by an automated computer process that puts together contiguous GIS quadrants according to recent census counts.

Start at the left bottom corner of the state and put together rectangles extending to the extreme upper right corner.

This removes gerrymandering and influence of special interests.

Ban political contributions and spending.

The state would print and mail (or make available on a Web site) candidate statements and biographies.

Anyone caught falsifying a statement would be automatically removed from office.

Any Legislature that fails to enact a budget within five days of its constitutional due date would be dissolved and a special election held.

As for term limits, eliminate them. If you have a qualified person who does a good job, keep that person in public service and let them earn their pension.

Any commission or department that is not expressly authorized in the state Constitution should automatically sunset after four years, the same time the Assembly is re-elected.

The commission or department would need to re re-authorized, downsized or eliminated by the new Legislature.

Also require a zero-base annual budget for each commission or department.

Every eight years, have the voters decide by ballot the continued need for each constitutional commission, agency or department.

This takes care of self-perpetuating bureaucracies and their associated costs and makes them directly accountable to the voters.

Ban the use of state funds to promote any such function with the exception of a mission statement and recent accomplishments to be listed in the Voter Guide for each such function.

Require the California budget to be based on actual collected revenues of the last completed fiscal year, less a 10-percent reserve and a reduction for projected revenue shortfalls.

This eliminates manipulation by optimistic revenue estimates and provides a savings cushion when the economy unexpectedly sours.

Projected revenue increases would only be allowed for voter-approved tax increases with a 60-percent majority.

Along with this, require funding of pension commitments, including promised medical or other benefits to state retirees and raise the retirement age to match that of Social Security.

This addresses the future bubble burst due to underfunded pension obligations.

Require full federal funding of any federally mandated program. This applies to schools, facilities and prisons.

If the feds require something, then the feds should pay for it; otherwise it won't get done.

Same for court orders: If a judge or other official mandates a program, then that judge or other official needs to specify how it would be funded and must put the cost up to the state's voters for authorization.

That solves prisoners getting better medical facilities and care than many of our state's law-abiding citizens.

Last on my wish list is judicial and tort reform.

Pay those on jury duty a fee based on four times the state minimum wage (around $300 a day).

Add this cost to the judge's salary, courtroom use, and other expenses and require the losing party in a civil case to pay the full cost allocated to the case.

Require plaintiffs and their attorneys in civil cases to post a bond to cover the projected costs of a suit and require them to pay the full actual costs of the case in the event they lose, including the defense fees.

Eliminate punitive judgments and require other judgments to be established by a panel of CPAs based on a person's real economic loss.

For criminal cases, if the defendant loses, he or she should be liable for the court costs as a non-dischargeable debt with asset seizure to cover the court costs.

Walter Watson is a Saugus resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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