2008 promises to be a year of progress for California

I’m starting 2008 feeling good about California.

Why the optimism? Well, as one of 12 kids growing up in Barrio Logan, I guess I came naturally to holding on to a sense that things can be made better in the future.

In reality, that’s how most Californians are. They see how things can be improved, and they are willing to do what it takes to get there. That’s why I’m confident that despite some disturbing headlines of late, 2008 can be a banner year for California.  I’m confident we will move forward with health care reform and that next November Californians will make history by approving a landmark agreement that brings relief to millions who don’t have health insurance or can’t afford health insurance.

I’m confident Californians will put some muscle behind our expanded role in the presidential nominating process, and be in a position to help deliver a new president. And I am confident she will effectively make changes to policies and attitudes that for seven years have harmed our state, our nation, and our world.

I’m confident we will find ways to help blunt the impact of the foreclosure crisis, reducing pressure not only on our economy, but on homeowners rapidly losing equity and neighborhoods seeing formerly inhabited houses turning into sources of blight and crime.

When it comes down to it, Californians will support common-sense progress, even incremental progress, over ideological purity.

One of the clouds gathering is, of course, the state’s ongoing structural budget imbalance. But I’m optimistic there too. As virtually everyone has noted, closing the state’s $10 billion to $14 billion structural gap will be tough. Californians expect — and even insist, through initiatives — that the state provide a certain level and quality of services. Democrats, Republicans and voters of all stripes have contributed to this budget situation for decades, and we will all have to contribute to finding a solution.

Thankfully, we designed the health care reform agreement to not impact the general fund and to be self-funded through the voter-approved increase in the tobacco tax, a hospital fee and employer participation. And as I’ve noted before, letting health care get worse won’t make the budget imbalance better.

Optimistic as I am, I do have to admit to being a little disappointed by the rush in some quarters to take hard lines regarding health care and the budget. Again, my sense is that common-sense Californians want progress toward solutions more than they want to see legislators making purity pledges to please those on the ideological extremes. Last year Assembly Democrats and Republicans negotiated and compromised on a budget with a sizable reserve that makes our current fiscal problems somewhat less severe. We should aim for that kind of cooperation and negotiation again. Additionally, though many of us had hoped single-payer health care would have been enacted by now, the truth is that’s a long way off — if ever — and it would be shameful to make people wait for health care until that unlikely pinnacle is achieved.

On Monday the Assembly will return after some holiday reconnecting with our families and after some recharging in order to do our best for the people of California. I know the 79 men and women of the Assembly like I know my 11 siblings. And knowing what we are capable of achieving if we put unnecessary partisanship aside and work together also fuels my sense of optimism — which is as strong today walking the halls of the Capitol as it ever was when I was walking the streets of Logan Heights.

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