Ending California’s confidence drought

Let’s start with the good news: as the first rains of the fall drop across the state, our leaders are focused on the vexing problem of how to meet California’s long-term need for clean, safe drinking water.

With enough hard work and determination, there’s a real chance the Governor and lawmakers will prove the cynics wrong and reach an agreement. Let’s hope they do.

But no matter where these negotiations lead, no matter how much water is conserved, stored and used to supply farms and families and safeguard our environment, California will still face a drought of a different kind – a drought in confidence in our government itself.

Just this week, yet another public opinion poll found Californians as dissatisfied with their elected leaders as they have ever been. The task of rebuilding that confidence has become as urgent as the need to build any new dam or peripheral canal.

Like the water issue, this problem won’t be solved by political business as usual, where the two parties dig in their heels and accomplish nothing. It’s going to take non-partisan leadership – people who are willing to put the future of California first – and work for comprehensive reform.

California Forward – a non-partisan organization, funded entirely by non-profit foundations with no political ties or partisan agendas has put forward a framework for restoring the confidence so sorely lacking in our basic system of government.

We start with the core of the problem – our state budget. Our plan takes tools that are already working in other states and in successful businesses – and puts them to work here in California.

There’s no need to re-invent the wheel – not when there are common-sense solutions that have worked elsewhere – to balance budgets, reduce waste and make government more accountable. Among them:

*Pay-As-You-Go – requiring new programs to identify a funding source for any new spending.

*Base Budgets on Results – requiring clear goals for every program, measuring their effectiveness, and regularly fixing or eliminating programs that aren’t working.

*Smart Use of One-Time Revenues – setting aside funds from occasional spikes in revenues to pay off debt rather than establishing new programs with ongoing costs.

*Two-year Budgets – requiring leaders to think long-term about spending priorities and revenues, with protections to keep spending in line with revenues.

*Majority Vote Budgets – in conjunction with other fiscal reforms, this will drastically reduce the likelihood of lengthy budget standoffs.
States that have put California Forward’s reforms in place are seeing real results – in better performing schools, providing better health care and even doing a better job maintaining roads and highways.

Enacting these reforms alone would be a huge first step. We would go further, by recognizing once and for all that most services are best delivered locally. That’s why our plan gives communities more tools to work together and more freedom to meet their own needs.

The California Forward plan rethinks the relationship between state and local government, with a strong preference for government that’s closer to the people. The plan protects local services by preventing the state from siphoning off local funding. It also lets community-level governments coordinate and do a better job solving problems – without all the duplication and red tape.

Our plan allows cities, counties and schools to work together to craft new plans to address community needs – and lets local voters decide whether to support them by majority vote – while retaining the current vote thresholds established under Prop. 218.

In the two months since we outlined our proposals, nearly 200 groups and individuals have endorsed our plans. That doesn’t mean we have no critics.  Some think we’re going too far – others, not far enough.

Critics on the left object that our plan doesn’t make it easier to raise taxes – and they’re right.

 Critics on the right complain that our plan won’t let a small number of politicians continue to hold up the state budget – and they’re right.

What critics on both sides tend to forget is, we’ve already got the worst of both worlds: Late budgets and higher taxes, outdated programs and unmet needs.

That’s why so many Californians are joining our call for comprehensive reform. It’s also why we urge our leaders to turn their attention to these issues now – before the next overheated budget debate withers what little confidence remains in government.

California has always led the way – in jobs and technology, education and quality of life. Our plan gets California moving again so California can lead again, with the confidence befitting a Golden State.

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