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Line-Item Vetoes Underscore Need for Reform

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The Governor's line-item vetoes last week marked the final footnote of the longest budget process in California history. The Governor's actions were directed at working families and California's most vulnerable citizens. His vetoes hurt special needs children, HIV/AIDS funding and schools all across California.

It's not surprising that he chose to punish the most vulnerable Californians. Over the past few years, his budget proposals have exclusively targeted working men and women, and the Californians who rely on state services to maintain their dignity and independence. In fact, his final actions in office were consistent with his conduct throughout his time as Governor, protecting the wealthy and powerful while blithely ignoring the values and needs of everyday Californians.

This episode, coming after a budget impasse that lasted 100 days, underscores much of what is wrong with our budget process. There is entirely too much secrecy, and that is rooted in the fact that our budget system has been reduced to a contest to see who can exert the most pressure and leverage the other side for the most concessions.

When every major decision is hostage by the minority party's budget demands, the results are bound to disappoint. This is exactly what has happened the past several years, and the people of California have every reason to mistrust the products of these insider games.

Prior to my election, I fought for working men and women in the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. I am no stranger to complex, and often contentious, negotiations. However, as a newcomer to the budget process, I can state emphatically that we need to completely overhaul the process by which we decide the budget.

Our current system doesn't create good-faith negotiations but rather creates an atmosphere of secrecy and budgetary hostage taking. Proposition 25, which will reform the system by eliminating the undemocratic two-thirds supermajority to approve a budget, is a major first step. It will allow the majority party to approve a budget with a simple majority, so that Californians have a clear understanding of who to blame (or reward) for budget decisions.

When we approve a budget, we are codifying our values as a state, but oftentimes the current system produces a budget that does not reflect those values. Instead, it reflects the demands of a handful of politicians (Democrats and Republicans alike) who hold out to essentially shake down their colleagues--and the people of California for concessions.

As we move forward on the next budget, I will be working with my colleagues to implement more reforms, more transparency and more honesty in the process. We face a difficult challenge in closing next year's projected deficit. While we don't know the exact scope or dimensions of the problem, we do know this: the people of California have every right and expectation to understand the solutions--and that the next Governor and Legislature must commit ourselves to working in broad daylight to produce an honest budget for the people of California.