By MICHAEL ALLEN
Michael Allen represents the state’s 7th Assembly District, which includes Napa County and part of Sonoma County.
As a freshman legislator, this is my first direct experience at grappling with a budget crisis of extraordinary magnitude, and it comes at a time when California also continues to struggle toward recovering from the nation’s worst economic downturn in decades.
That said, I think it’s important for us to take stock in where we are at the moment, and to try to separate fact from opinion as we continue to work toward resolving California’s budget dilemma — a dilemma which must be resolved before our state can truly move forward again.
In January, Gov. Jerry Brown laid out a responsible, balanced proposal for solving our budget deficit and putting our fiscal house in order. Major civic and business organizations and associations across the state decided to support the governor’s plan, which featured a mixture of painful reductions in spending along with extensions of some tax increases which either expired last December or will expire in June 2011. Those organizations agreed that the governor’s plan made sense in terms of stabilizing government finances, which would in turn help strengthen the state and local economies.
As a member of the Assembly budget committee, I’ve had the opportunity to review the governor’s budget proposals first-hand. And while we considered many of those proposals difficult to accept, Assembly Democrats have chosen to make the tough decisions to cut spending for a wide range of programs and services affecting perhaps the majority of Californians.
I’ve spent most of my adult life advocating on behalf of working men and women and their families, but I recently found myself agreeing to reduce funding for things on which they depend. Those were not easy votes for me to cast, but the stark reality is that we have less money available to pay for the kinds of things that government offers at all levels — even though the economic downturn has meant that demand for some programs and services is greater than ever.
Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have voted to approve more than $14 billion in deficit-cutting solutions; Republicans in both houses criticized the cuts for not going far enough, and then failed to approve the cuts that the governor had proposed.
To date, my Republican colleagues have thus far refused to support letting voters decide whether we should extend the tax increases. Despite their shrinking numbers in the Capitol, the governor was willing to try to negotiate with Republicans in order to secure their votes to put the tax extension proposals on the ballot. This was done partly because he said he would put such questions before the voters when he was campaigning for office last year, but partly because his goal (and ours) has been to approve the budget solutions in their entirety with solid bipartisan support.
We began this process with a $26.6 billion budget shortfall, and in 66 days we approved $14 billion in solutions, including $10.7 billion in spending cuts. We have roughly $13 billion left to address with about two-and-a-half months left to do it in.
The governor and Democrats in the Legislature, remain committed to adopting a responsible state budget and to doing the job that voters expect us to do. At this point, we are considering all available options for accomplishing the task, but our over-arching goal continues to be including our Republican colleagues as partners in this extremely important process that affects every Californian.
The question is, are they willing to be responsible partners in California’s future?