Untying the budget knot

Needed: a state budget commission

If you’re like us, you’ve had it with Sacramento and state government. You’re convinced that the governor and the Legislature are simply incapable of coming up with a reasonable and balanced way to solve the state’s perennial budget problems.

Well, we have a proposal. Actually, it’s not our proposal; we’re just passing it on. It’s the brainchild of Robert Krol, a professor of economics at Cal State Northridge, who explained it in an April 10 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times titled “Cutting politics out of budget cuts in California.”

Krol’s idea is to take the job of making budget cuts out of the hands of the Legislature and governor and give it to an independent, bipartisan commission. Whatever this group comes up with, the Legislature and governor would be required to accept or reject the entire package, no changes allowed.

Such a process would nimbly bypass the special interests and political quicksand that keep legislators from being able to agree on spending cuts. It’s similar to the approach taken when Congress decided to close a large number of military bases. Knowing local legislators would resist closures in their own districts, no matter how justified, Congress established a commission and agreed to take an up-or-down vote on its recommendations as a package. The commission has successfully closed or downsized 706 bases since 1988, Krol states.

A California budget commission would be tasked with evaluating the performance of all government programs and agencies to determine whether they’ve become outdated or redundant, whether they really deliver and are cost-effective or can be more efficiently provided by the private sector. The commission’s recommendations—whether to eliminate, downsize or privatize programs—would be sent to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote.

If the Legislature doesn’t see the wisdom of this, Krol argues, “proponents of responsible government could use the initiative process to force legislators’ hands.” Sounds like a good idea.