Bills seek to improve California budget process |

Bills seek to improve California budget process

Robin Hindery
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California lawmakers on Wednesday approved two measures that would apply practices from the business world to the state’s dysfunctional budget process.

The state Senate passed the bills with only one dissenting vote. They are part of a larger reform package proposed in March by Democratic lawmakers and the independent group California Forward.

One measure that passed, SB1426, would require the governor to submit a two-year spending plan and a five-year fiscal forecast to the Legislature in every odd-numbered year, starting in 2011.

The other, SB1020, would mandate performance-based reviews of every state program at least once every 10 years in an effort to improve outcomes and control costs, said its author, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis.

Supporters called the actions a good first step toward improving the state’s budget process.

“This isn’t everything all of us wanted, but it will start to correct the dysfunctional aspects of how we operate our budget system,” said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, the author of SB1426.

Republicans also backed the bills, saying they would help lawmakers be better stewards of the public’s tax dollars.

“These bills are not perfect by any means, but they do focus the energy of this house on trying to see if we are performing for the money we’re spending,” said Republican Sen. Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar.

SB1426 and SB1020 now move to the Assembly.

Republicans have been slower to embrace other aspects of the reform package, including a plan to change the requirement to pass a state budget from a two-thirds legislative majority to a simple majority. Taxes and fees would still require a two-thirds vote, but some Republicans fear loopholes would allow Democrats to push through tax hikes on a majority vote.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said Wednesday’s actions in the Senate showed a bipartisan willingness to start pushing for meaningful reform.

“It’s always difficult to get the Legislature to change its process,” he said. “If they can start making some changes now, then maybe they can tackle more difficult problems next year, in a non-election year.”

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made long-term budget reform the central promise of the 2003 recall election. But with just six months remaining in his second term, none of his proposals have been realized.

In a 2009 special election, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature offered a series of budget-balancing measures. But the confusing mix of reforms, higher taxes and borrowing proved deeply unpopular with voters, who rejected five of the six propositions.

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