| I know, I know, it's too easy. But what better headline can one come up with to assess the ridiculous and ineffective solutions proposed by Leon Panetta's high-powered, high cost group of high Broderists to solve the budget crisis?
George Skelton's column provides some of their early recommendations:
* Requiring new or expanded programs -- whether created by the Legislature or ballot initiative -- to contain a specific funding source. That could be either new taxes or money gleaned from another program that is eliminated.
* Regularly examining spending programs to determine whether they should be revised, reduced or rubbed out.
* Also regularly reviewing tax loopholes to see if they're still needed: "Treat tax breaks like spending."
* Creating a rainy-day fund fed by unexpected tax gushes. When revenue dwindles, dip into the fund. Or use it for one-time public works projects or even tax rebates.
* Modernizing the tax system "to reflect the contemporary economy." Extend the sales tax to services while reducing the overall tax rate.
* Focusing on multiyear spending plans, rather than merely passing one-year budgets.
* Granting more power and responsibility to local governments.
* Changing the two-thirds majority vote requirement for budget passage. It wasn't suggested what the vote should be, but any change must be tied to "other reforms designed to improve performance, accountability and public trust."
Nowhere is the structural revenue shortfall discussed. Instead Panetta and friends take Republican framing to the budget, believing that the problem is too much spending. Nowhere are the state's pressing problems of underfunded education, health care, and public transportation discussed. It's as if those issues don't exist - as if this is 1985 and gas is at $1.20, a year at UC at $2,000, and health insurance plentiful and affordable.
The California Forward proposals are as backward-looking as anything we've yet seen, an effort to continue obsolete 20th century assumptions, an effort to avoid confronting 21st century realities.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the group also embraces the unnecessary redistricting reform - an inherently pro-Republican proposal that should suggest where this group's allegiances actually lie.
Skelton takes their bait in his column, and argues - against all evidence - that the problem is simply that Republicans and Democrats won't talk to each other:
The reformers are prepared to take their proposals to the ballot in 2010 if they're ignored by the Legislature. But they're hoping the lawmakers will adopt at least incremental changes. A good time to start will be during this summer's budget negotiations. The reforms could "give Republicans a little comfort on spending and how tax dollars are used," Panetta theorizes.
But first the politicians have to start talking to each other.
Here's a suggestion: Turn off the BlackBerrys and cellphones.
Better yet, lock them in a desk. Look people in the eye. Smile. Sit down and deal.
This is ridiculous to the point of not understanding California politics. Someone as experienced as Skelton ought to know the real problem is with ideology and the rules. The 2/3 rule allows far-right Republicans to hold the state hostage to their rabid anti-tax views, which are not representative of the state's public opinion. It's not gerrymandering that enables this, or a refusal to talk - but the very real fact that the moment a Republican deviates from the firm anti-tax line the Club for Growth, the Howard Jarvis Association, the CRA and even the CRP will come down on that legislator like a ton of bricks. His or her primary opponent will be well-funded and his or her hopes of re-election and higher office are over.
How does Skelton not understand this?
Skelton, Panetta, and the other high Broderists wish it were 1974 all over again. It's not. It's a shame what remains of our state's media prefers nostalgic flights of fancy to realistic assessments of present-day issues.