November 2008 E-Newsletter
Simple Majority, Yes! Two-Thirds Requirement, No!
The survey is clear: California's two-thirds super majority to pass a budget must go.
By a large margin, people responding to my survey request in October overwhelmingly support allowing the Legislature to adopt a budget with a simple majority.
A resounding 70 percent answered "yes" to the question, "Should state law be changed to allow the California Legislature to adopt a budget by a simple majority vote?"
As of Nov. 6, 81 people responded to the survey that was included in my last newsletter. Fifty-seven people agreed that the state law should be changed to let the Legislature to adopt a budget with a simple majority. Twenty-three people said "no." One person did not correctly fill out the survey and that response was recorded as a non-vote.
Many respondents said they were frustrated with the Legislature's inability to approve a budget before the July 15 deadline. Some said the two-thirds majority created an imbalance by allowing a minority of legislators to unfairly block passage of a spending plan, effectively holding the budget hostage in exchange for protecting Big Oil and the wealthy from paying their fair share of taxes.
"The present system is tyranny of the minority - how can we keep this system in place and pretend to be a democracy?" said Jerry M. Brown, of Chatsworth. "I wholeheartedly support your efforts to eliminate the 'super-majority' requirement for passing the budget."
Those who voted to maintain the status quo said they were concerned there would be no checks on a majority that alone could pass a budget. Others say the state is overspending which has led to deficits and that the two-thirds majority requirement is the only brake on spending.
But, the reality is that changing the law will make each Assembly Member's and State Senator's position on a budget transparent. The budget process as it stands now is rife with last-minute deal-making and trailer bills to entice a two-thirds vote, the ransom the minority caucus exacts to release the budget.
As for the issue of overspending, the Legislature actually has less control over the budget than many people would think. Voter-approved ballot measures account for more than half of the general fund with the Legislature deciding how the remainder will be parceled out.
After years of hearing the familiar refrain that the state overspends, Treasurer Bill Lockyer sought to find out if that accusation actually was true.
The treasurer reviewed the last 10 years of state spending and after taking into account population growth and inflation he found that funding for prisons had risen by an average of 6.7 percent annually and that the elimination of the Vehicle License Fee was costing California 24.9 percent in lost revenue.
Meanwhile, welfare spending dropped by 7.6 percent; Proposition 98 funding for K-14 was down 0.2 percent; Supplemental Security Income-State Supplemental Payment spending was up only 0.9 percent; Medi-Cal funding had gone up only 3.6 percent; spending on the University of California and the California State University systems had increased by a paltry 0.2 percent.
It's clear our spending problems aren't connected to the state's delivery of health and human services. The big cost driver is our prison system and the best way to control that spending is through prevention.
What is also clear is that the two-thirds requirement stops California from moving forward. The system prevents us from establishing a firm course to solve our long-term problems.
It allows a few people, who have failed to win over the populace in the market place of ideas, to impede our progress.
As the budget stalemate grew longer and longer this past summer, the Assembly Republicans did not offer their spending plan proposal until Sept. 3, almost three months after the June 15 deadline to pass a budget.
While the minority party has expressed vehement opposition to any tax increases, its members have also have shown they're not opposed to tax loopholes for their friends.
For example, they voted to preserve tax breaks for Big Oil by refusing to back an oil severance tax - a tax that every oil-producing state has enacted except for California. Instead, California loses close to $1 billion in sorely needed revenue every year that could help our schools, college students, and seniors.
California can no longer permit a handful of legislators to impose their will on a budget that has been crafted by the consensus of our lawmakers - a majority that represents the cumulative will of our voters.
And that's why I think we must change the law.
Here is a sampling of comments from the survey, pro and con:
"I totally agree that this law is archaic and (it) leads to tyranny by the minority. We shouldn't be one of only 3 states that still uses this law!"
--- K.C. Walsh, San Jose
"Although the legislature seems polarized now, I like the idea of requiring a two-thirds majority to adopt the budget. It should be an incentive for legislators to try very hard to build a consensus."
--- N. Eric Jorgensen, San Jose
"State law should be changed so that a simple majority or 55 % would be the margin to past the budget."
--- Allan Campbell, San Jose
Last month, both the California League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club California gave me 100 percent ratings for my votes on various environmental bills that ranged from reducing air pollution at our busy ports to eliminating perfluorinated compounds from our food to improving the response to oil spills. While recognition is always nice, casting a vote to protect our environment for future generations is always an easy choice to make.
Free Health Screenings for Seniors
Free workshops on finance protection, investment fraud, and health screenings will be available at the Senior Resource Forum. There is no admission fee. Officials with the state departments of consumer affairs, corporations, the State Contractor's License Board, and the Santa Clara County Adult Protective Services will be speaking.
Senior Resource Forum
Santa Clara Convention Center
5001 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara
Friday, Nov. 14
9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Free E-Waste Collection
Get rid of that old computer or TV in an environmentally approved way. The Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley is sponsoring a free Electronic Waste Recycling Event. They will accept laptops, PDAs, monitors, stereos, radios, VCRs, DVD players, telephones, cellular phones, and desktops. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moreland Community Center parking lot
1850 Fallbrook Ave., San Jose
Saturday, Nov. 15
9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Lending a Charitable Hand by Lacing on Your Jogging Shoes
The 4th Annual Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot will be held on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, and the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation.
For information about the schedule of events or how to participate, click here.
Helping Families During the Holidays
Every year, the Family Giving Tree, a Milpitas-based non-profit, provides thousands of Christmas gifts to selected families and homeless people who have registered with recipient social service agencies. After interviewing families to find out what they need, those requests are posted on cards on "Giving Trees" that are distributed to participating companies and corporation. Customers or workers pick a wish card, purchase the gift, and then return it with the original card attached. The Family Giving Tree helped give 63,000 gifts in 2007 through the generosity of people who have stepped up to make someone's holidays a little brighter. To learn more, go to Family Giving Tree website.
The Assembly District 24 office - 100 Paseo De San Antonio, Suite 300, at the Alfred E. Alquist Building in downtown San Jose - will have a Family Giving Tree. My office staff and I invite you to join me Friday, Nov. 21, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for some hot chocolate and cookies as you choose a wish card from our holiday tree.
Stepping Stones to Employment
San Jose's public libraries are holding various free workshops to help people find jobs, polish their resumes, and improve their job interview skills.
Pearl Avenue Branch Library
4270 Pearl Ave.
Friday, Nov. 21
4 p.m.-5 p.m.
Pre-registration required. Sign up at the library's customer service desk.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library
150 E. San Fernando St.
Computer Lab 125, First Floor
Tuesday, Nov. 18
6 p.m.-7:45 p.m.
A session focusing on how to market yourself and how to create an effective resume.