San Diego Business Journal

State, Like the Marines, Has Its Hands Full

OUR VIEWS - Editorial by John Hollon

Last week, on the day after the "fall" of Baghdad, a CBS Radio report noted the continued fighting going on in and around the Iraqi capital.

"The regime may be gone," the report said, "but the Marines still have their hands full."

The same can be said for our struggles back here at home with the sluggish U.S. economy. We all have our hands full.

Nowhere is this more true than in California, where the ongoing state budget crisis continues to hang over our heads, threatening any larger economic recovery that might flow out of a positive end to the conflict in Iraq.

California has a budget deficit that the governor's office estimates at $35 billion over the next 16 months. Dan Walters, the Sacramento Bee's respected political columnist, has been covering state politics and government for more than 30 years. His recent writings on the budget crisis have been particularly insightful:

"California has 35 million people, the globe's fifth- or sixth-most powerful economy, enormous conflicts over water, land use, transportation, education, health care and dozens of other vital social and economic matters , including, lest we forget, a state budget deficit so huge it almost defies description.

"We might assume, or at least expect, that the state's governor and 120 legislators would be working night and day to devise policies that address these issues, taking care of the public's pressing business.

"But if the state's politicians are being diligent, they're doing a very good job of concealing it. If one wandered through the Capitol (last) week, one would see dozens of committees chugging away through thick files of pending bills. However, while some of the bills surfacing in committees this year deal with substantive issues, most are what any rational person would categorize as trivia."

Walters goes on to discuss three horse racing bills that wasted the time of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, and how "the vast majority of bills introduced in this and other legislative sessions rise to no higher level of importance."

If you care about the state budget crisis , and you should, because whatever solution is eventually reached to solve it will have a huge impact on every person and business in this state , you should take time to read the two articles on our Commentary page.

One, by Martyn Hopper, the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, details some of the potential deficit solutions the Legislature is considering. The proposals he discusses are all ones that would increase taxes and fees on businesses and taxpayers , just what we don't need in a state that is already viewed as terribly unfriendly to business.

The second article is an excerpt from an interview our sister publication, the Los Angeles Business Journal, did with new state controller Steve Westly. His comments are particularly illuminating, especially how he can't seem to get our highly partisan state legislators to focus and make the huge budget cuts necessary to solve the deficit problem.

The state budget crisis is starting to hit close to home. Just last week, San Diego City Schools trustees held the first of many public discussions on how to close a projected $147 million budget deficit for the next school year. Close to 1,500 teachers have been notified that they may lose their jobs as a result. There's more of this coming, and it will bring hardship and pain to a lot of people throughout San Diego County and rest of the state.

We need some Solomon-like decision-making to come out of Sacramento. Our legislators must buck up and take the tough action necessary to solve the budget crisis. This may, regretfully, mean some new taxes and fee increases. But, the solution must also encompass some huge budget cuts because our state can't continue to support the size of the current bureaucracy, and, the state can't go on spending like its 1999.

We don't have a lot of hope our legislators and governor will do the right thing. As Walters observed:

"Capitol politicians created this crisis with their shortsighted fiscal decision-making and now, it would appear, they're doing their damndest to ignore it."

, John Hollon