Legislature needs fundamental paradigm shift
February 7, 2003
At times the thought of living in a “virtual” world is appealing — a realm with no consequences, no piper to pay for bad decisions, no whirlwind to reap from wind we have sown.
Unfortunately for the political leaders who have held California’s reins for the past four years, and for the rest of us as well, we do not inhabit such a world. Decisions and policies do have consequences. Serious consequences.
Consider the state budget. Just a few years back, state tax coffers were overflowing with unexpected capital gains tax revenue from the booming stock market. Prudence–knowing that stock markets rise and fall — dictated that any extra funds not returned to taxpayers should either be invested in one-time projects like water, transportation and school infrastructure, or saved for less prosperous years.
Instead, budgets were planned as if the windfall revenues were permanent. Governmental expenditures exploded by 36 percent and bureaucracy boomed. Even when it became clear that the extra revenue was drying up, the spending continued and difficult decisions were avoided through borrowing and accounting gimmicks.
Only now that the 2002 elections are well behind us — as Gov. Gray Davis intended — are we realizing the enormous impact of our irresponsibility. The consequences are not merely large numbers written on budget reports in red ink. Educators and taxpayers, old and young, rich and poor, commerce as well as the environment — all suffer when government fails to recognize basic laws of responsible budgeting. Irresponsible actions do have consequences.
Less obvious than our budget situation, but perhaps even more harmful in the long run, is the stance California’s majority party has taken toward our business community.
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It would appear commonsensical to observe that farmers, entrepreneurs, small businesses and other commercial enterprises are California’s primary job creators, paycheck-writers, service and goods providers, and tax generators. Faithful oversight of these businesses is a vital function of government But businesses are not enemies. They are partners in making our state all it can be.
Legislation coming out of Sacramento recently, however, would lead one to believe the Legislature views the business community as a monster to be shackled and a cash cow to be milked until dry.
Of course, this legislation has consequences, too. California’s reputation for encouraging commerce has dropped precipitously over the past four years. In the brief span of Gray Davis’ tenure as governor, an annual survey of business executives nationwide saw California fall from the ranks of the top 10 states in which to operate a business to the bottom 10. The “Small Business Survival Index,” which ranks how “state and local governments treat small businesses and entrepreneurs” also saw California join its 10 worst states in 2001, hitting 44th in the most recent ranking.
More poignant than numbers are stories from life in the real world. And in recent months, I’ve heard many. Wineries closing because laws have exposed them to frivolous lawsuits. A family farm sold due to sky-high electricity costs. Employees let go because recent increases in worker’s comp insurance cost the business as much as three full-time salaries.
Last month, one of America’s landmark businesses, Buck Knives, announced it would be leaving California for Idaho, taking with it 250 jobs. The local county supervisor, Diane Jacob, observed, “I think this is just the beginning of the exodus of businesses in the state unless there are sweeping reforms in the way we treat businesses.” Policies have consequences.
For my part in the Legislature, I will continue to pursue responsible budgets, reasonable regulation, and prudent policy. One measure I have co-authored, ACA 6, would set budgetary spending limits that would prevent a repeat of our current budget crisis. Another bill I am proposing would allow small businesses to fix mistakes, rather than face costly lawsuits immediately for unintentional errors in complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Only a fundamental paradigm shift in the Legislature, however, will set our state back on the right track. We desperately need a renewed awareness that policies and actions do have profound consequences, many of them unintended. This awareness can only come as ordinary citizens share their stories with elected officials. It is up to you to help California’s leaders make that critical connection between policy decisions and the real world, between choices and their consequences.
Assembly Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, represents South Lake Tahoe. He may be reached at (916) 319-2004.
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