Dirty politics in the wake of a tough budget vote

I have seen some interesting things happen in Sacramento since I was elected to office. However, this past summer lowered the standards on dirty tricks played to try and get one more vote.

You always prepare for gags and jokes on your 40th birthday. Nevertheless, I did not expect to see signs pop up around my home and office that said “Dump Denham.” Right away, I learned that this was no birthday prank, but brash tactics to try to change my vote on a bad, unbalanced budget. Since I am a legislator who will listen to all sides before I make my decision, they thought they could force my hand by coming into my Senate district and paying for signs and telephone banks to upset my constituents. These district outsiders were wrong; not only about swaying me, but about the views of my constituents as well.

These counterproductive Sacramento tactics actually backfired. I received incredible support from my constituents who called, wrote and asked specifically how they could help. Some property owners even called to file a formal vandalism complaint because someone had placed signs on their property without permission.

Once these initial tactics didn’t work, the administration stepped in. First, the governor’s director of finance wrote an editorial against my budget stance in one of my largest district newspapers. Then, the governor, of my own political party, went into a nearby community and said that I should “get a lot of heat” for not voting for the budget.

I could have easily gotten into an immature name-calling battle with these individuals; instead I took to reason. I came back with the facts, like faulty assumptions in the budget and expenses like the new contract with the correctional peace officers that had not been added to the budget.

I had constituents from all over the state call my office. My staff communicated the facts to each caller about the amendment I proposed to actually pay for vital state services during the budget stalemate. Once callers learned the president pro tempore of the Senate would not even bring the amendment up for a vote, they wanted phone numbers for Senate leaders and their own representatives.

Three months down the road, the Senate president pro tempore pays for signature gatherers from outside the 12th Senatorial district. These outsiders say anything to get voters to sign the recall petition. Some constituents respond by providing information to local authorities on how the recall petition gatherers are breaking state law.

Finally, back in session, California now faces a financial train wreck. With an estimated $14.5 billion deficit, folks are starting to wake up to the problems that were actually in the 2007-08 budget. Had the governor or legislative leaders actually worked through some of the spending issues last summer, instead of spending their efforts trying to get my vote, our state would not be in the position it is in today.

As a business owner, I have to approach the state budget like I would approach the finances for my own business. If I am facing a deficit, I need to find ways to increase revenues (no, not taxes) and reduce spending. I have to look at each area of my business and find ways to do business differently.

The state needs to take a similar approach and find selected areas where we can afford to cut 10 percent or more. The state’s budget must focus on our core priorities — education and public safety. Suspending Proposition 98 or reducing funds for education and public safety is not the answer.

One way to resolve our budget impasse each year is to change the way the state traditionally does business. Last week, I introduced my budget reform package, which consists of six measures to change our budgeting process. It’s irresponsible to actually start the legislative budget process in June or July. The process that is currently in place needs to be strengthened, and we need to put some teeth into the penalties. These bills will force lawmakers and the governor to work together in a bipartisan fashion for the good of the people.

The 2008-09 budget will impact each of our lives. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s fair to force California families to pay an extra $3,000 in taxes to make up for the governor and Legislature’s mistake of passing an unbalanced budget last summer. Families can’t afford that additional burden. However, I do expect that the state will carefully scrutinize its expenses and find other ways to bring in new revenues such as selling unused surplus properties. These assets would enable California to pay down its debt service and make this year’s budget, and future budgets, more manageable. California owes it to the people to find a real way to “stop that crazy deficit spending.”

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