Community Columns

Let's return to the good ol' days of biennial state budgets

A long time ago in a land far, far away lived a group of people known as Californians. These people stuck to most of the traditional values and ideas of the times. To say they were old-fashioned would be an understatement.

Moms stayed home, dads worked, crime was under control and congestion was something you experienced in your upper respiratory system -- not on the highways.

The historic Californians even had a part-time Legislature. It met each year for different reasons. One yearly session was devoted only to the budget, fiscal matters, taxes and that sort of thing. The idea was to come up with a balanced budget and that was invariably accomplished for a two-year period.

The other yearly session was devoted to all other legislative matters. Neither session lasted all year, and when the job was completed, the legislators went home. There were no term limits and "once a legislator, always a legislator" was the rule.

But, alas, along came those who said we needed a full-time Legislature. The increasing complexities of society required more attention to details. With a full-time Legislature, much more could be and would be done. The state budget would be thrown into the mix and the time the legislators spent at home tending to their families and domestic needs would be better used tending to the overall needs of the state.

Perhaps it was a variation on the cliché, "The idle mind is the devil's tool," or something else; at any rate, more modern Californians voted to replace order with chaos.

Now, the best we can hope for is that there are no physical casualties in the last days of a session. All bills not passed are rushed toward being made into law or vetoed. The budget usually gets passed with more "fixes" than solid fiscal responsibility.

The future looks even grimmer. The ballot measure to reform health care being readied for the November ballot includes language that requires the Legislature to come up with funding when regular tax sources fall short of goals. This will only add to the budget quagmire.

When this additional task is thrown into an already overextended agenda, the results might be anything but satisfactory. The entire future legislative scheme is being driven by the budget deficit and that deficit requires full-time attention.

It might well be that the idle mind is the devil's tool, but the overworked minds of our Legislature's members seem to have acquired a devilishness all their own. The budget would get a life of its own if the full resources of the Legislature were brought into play at the same time for the same focus and reason -- to put a budget into place. This is a lot better than having the budget issue mingled with all the rest of the legislative work being done at any given time.

We need a focused Legislature and governor, much like those long-ago Californians enjoyed. One session, one consensus, one budget and a well-thought-out solution to California's fiscal mess.

Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, served as a visiting editor. E-mail him at columns@modbee.com.

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