Opinion: $20 billion in debt, 12 percent jobless, no budget — and we ban grocery bags?

A recent Field Poll found that 79 percent of Californians believe the state is on the wrong track – the highest rating in the venerable history of the survey.

Stop and think about that for a moment.

More than three-quarters of the Golden State think the state is not heading in the right direction; they’re dissatisfied, disappointed and, for the more than 12 percent who are unemployed, feeling pretty despondent right now.

The disapproval ratings for the governor and Legislature are just as dismal: 70 percent and 74 percent respectively.

Knowing this, can you imagine the profound resentment Californians felt when they learned that instead of addressing the state budget deficit, or the 12 percent unemployment rate, legislators are debating—and passing—laws to ban the bags that carry our groceries home from the store?

Most are concerned about having the money to fill a grocery bag with food for their family, not what that grocery bag is made of.

Even worse, legislators want to create a new $1.5 million government bureaucracy to ensure local grocery stores aren’t offering their customers the wrong kind of bags.  Is this even close to what Californians want their leaders to be focused on right now?

In times of prosperity and financial ease, policy debates like this are a luxury tolerated by voters. But when people struggle to find employment, or pay their bills each month, all while government is frivolously throwing their tax dollars down the bottomless pit of an ever-expanding bureaucracy, anger at government is downright understandable.

Further frustration is manifested by the fact that the Constitutional deadline for the Legislature to enact a state budget passed by almost unnoticed more than three weeks ago.  Such callous disregard for their obligations is one of many reasons voters have no faith in – or respect for – their elected officials.

Producing a sound, balanced budget should be a top priority for legislators. Instead, with every daily delay, the state’s $20 billion deficit continues to climb.

If they can’t manage a basic responsibility, how can citizens believe their representatives are qualified to tackle even more complex issues facing California right now?  Californians face a myriad of tough problems right now—problems that the Legislature doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to address.

Have they forgotten our housing crisis, as many people struggle just to remain in their homes?  While home foreclosures hit a record high last quarter, among all 50 states, California has the fourth highest foreclosure rate and the most foreclosures total with 340,740 properties returning to the bank.

During the 2009-2010 legislative session, the Assembly considered more than 3,000 pieces of legislation; the Senate almost 2,000.

Instead of introducing 5,000 new laws and debating inane policies like banning certain grocery bags, legislators should demonstrate their commitment to making California the Golden State once again. That means setting aside frivolous distractions that don’t directly address the state’s budget, bringing businesses and jobs back to the state, and easing the tax burden on hardworking taxpayers.

Only then can they prove they’re serious about matching their priorities to the concerns of their constituents will politicians begin to earn the respect of California’s people.

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