Moving Forward in Califorina

03/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Karen Bass California State Assembly Member representing Los Angeles' 47th Assembly District

The California budget approved last week by the legislature and signed by the governor is tough medicine and hard to swallow. But with our state on the edge of a fiscal cliff, it had to be done.

Without this budget, hundreds of infrastructure projects would have been stopped, which means the state would have lost even more jobs; 20,000 layoff notices were ready to go to state workers; taxpayers' refunds would have continued to be withheld, small business vendors would get IOUs for payment, and students wouldn't get financial aid. And it would only have gotten worse.

With 9.3% unemployment and the highest number of foreclosures in the nation. California has been battered by the national economic crisis. This budget stops the bleeding and buys California time to weather the recession and move into recovery.

This budget was full of difficult choices. No legislator came to Sacramento to cast these kinds of votes. I ran for office to protect and expand services for vulnerable members of our society. Because of this unprecedented crisis, I had to vote for cuts in those programs.

My fellow Democrats and I compromised on environmental regulations, labor provisions, and education. We compromised on a spending cap that restrains expenditures even in good times and puts money into a rainy day fund.

The cuts in this budget are on top of 180 others --$19 billion worth -- made since 2003.

I respect my Democratic colleagues for the painful choices they made in this emergency. I respect my Republican colleagues who showed leadership by supporting new revenues in this crisis.

This closes a $41 billion, 18-month problem and puts reductions and revenues in place sooner so they can be smaller. The cuts and taxes included will also be smaller depending on the amount California receives in federal stimulus funding. The taxes are temporary, with their duration tied to approval of the spending cap.

With education, one of Democrats' highest priorities, we protected core instructional programs and services for at-risk students. We targeted cuts, such as maintenance, in-service training, school safety grants, and education technology. This approach along with giving districts more flexibility, helped limit classroom cuts -- and while the education cuts are real, the funding level is restored over time.

When it comes to labor, another key priority for Democrats, the budget does include design build and public private partnerships and recognizes the savings the governor sought from employee furloughs. Democrats made some accommodations on clarifying scheduling options that can be voted on by employees, but we also held the line because we understand it was eight years of federal actions and inaction that caused the recession -- not the eight hour day working parents depend on in raising their families.

On environmental regulations, the budget allows for some case by case flexibility. However, Democrats did maintain the state's strong commitment to the clean air and water that every individual and business needs to thrive in California.

Most of the elements in this budget have been previously discussed in some form -- including the majority-vote solutions package Democrats put forward in December. Given the immediate harm to Californians from the cash crisis, it was unfortunately necessary to have an accelerated process for bringing this budget to a vote. As a former community organizer, this kind of insider process isn't my preferred way of reaching a compromise, but given the severity of the crisis, it was a necessity.

I do hope California is never in a situation where a budget like this has to be rushed through again. I also hope we -- and that includes voters -- will finally fix the two-thirds vote requirement and remove the harm that it causes. In the best of times the two-thirds requirement can lead to budget game playing from those in the minority. In a crisis like we are in, the two-thirds requirement essentially allows budget solutions to be held up for ransom. That has to change.

With the budget behind us for now, I have asked the members of the Assembly to focus on creative ways to maximize the benefits of the federal stimulus program, to promote new jobs, and to encourage economic recovery. That focus has to be our number one priority. While there is something in this budget for everyone to hate, and the legislature will be criticized for the tough choices we made, I want it said that when it counted we did our jobs so more Californians wouldn't lose theirs.