Thursday, December 18, 2008

California State Budget "Armageddon"

For those of you who aren't in the state or aren't paying attention, the California State Budget is in a shit-ton of trouble.

To the tune of an estimated $40 billion worth of red ink within the next 18 months (that's approximately 40% of the total budget, in case you were wondering).

The Governor and state Legislators are scrambling bickering working towards figuring out how many state workers they have to lay off to close the gap the best way to balance the budget before the shortfall gets larger.

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Before I go any further, I'd like to preface this by saying that I will probably not do any research whatsoever before proceeding. Any comments I make will be made strictly based on memory. If I do any research, I'll link you to it so you know.

Now, that's not to say that I'm just going to pull the rest of this post out of my ass. Only that I may be wrong, or misinformed, or misunderstanding something. If so, feel free to point it out.

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The problem is that nobody knows how to play nice thinks outside the box seems to be able to come up with a solution that everyone can buy into. Republicans have adopted a hardline "no new taxes" position and are unwilling to budge. Democrats are unwilling to move a plan forward based solely on program cuts.

Meanwhile, the SEIU is holding its breath, state funding for roadwork has been halted, programs that serve the needy are on the verge of shutting down, some jackass is pissed off that he can't get anyone to answer the phone at EDD because it's more convenient for him to call than to drive down to the office and wait in line, and the state of California is launching Bank on California.

I think the resolution to our budget issues is more complex than "raise taxes" and "cut programs".

I think we need to look more in depth at what we spend our money on, where it goes, and how we can rearrange, reprioritize, and re-evaluate how we do business.

For example:

Customer Service

Almost all state agencies can be reached by phone, by mail, by email, at an office, and on the internet. Super! We Californians sure as hell love our options, hate having to wait, and have the attention spans of gnats.

Hell, you can even go on the main California government website and chat with a live operator.


This all may seem super awesome, but the issue is that this all costs money. Maybe it's time to sit down and decide which ways are most important. Once upon a time, you had to write a letter or drag your ass into an office to chat with someone about a state agency. Now you can get an information overload served up however you'd like it.

To clarify, I really do think that's awesome.

Y'all should know I love me some information, and it makes it that much easier the more of it I can get online.

But I do think that making the same, exact information available five separate ways is maybe a little excessive, and maybe using more of our resources than we have to spare.

How about we pick our two favorites and just stick with that for right now. It would do good for us to remember that state government is neither Burger King nor Nordstrom's. A lot of state agencies have worked hard in recent years to increase the public's view of their customer service. However, the issue remains that state government does not exist for the purpose of providing excellent customer service. Further, the unique responsibilities of state government mean that providing excellent and diverse customer service is expensive.

Unlike retail establishments, providing excellent customer service does not help increase revenue.


It seems to me like it's time to sit down and decide what our customer service priorities are, how much they cost us, and which we need to lose until we are in a better financial position.


Since the Governor declared that "financial Armageddon" was near, there have been several announcements of new and expanded state programs.

Examples include Bank on California, bringing heavy-duty diesel trucks under clean air rules, and a recommendation to adopt a plan of action in regards to toxic chemicals.

While I am not interested in debating the worth of these particular programs, I think it begs the question: Is this really the time for creating new programs and expanding existing ones?

I think it's pretty clear that the state does not have the money to spend on every "good idea" that comes along.

Instead of cutting money from vital services like schools, the disabled, and medical services for the poor, maybe we should look at programs that just aren't crucial to the health and welfare of the people of the state of California.

There's a huge difference between a necessary service and not.

While I applaud the strides that government has taken towards being more accessible, people-friendly, and empowering, there are some things we just cannot afford to keep pushing forward at this point in time.


I was chatting with one of the guys who works in our building, and he brought up owning versus leasing as far as state offices go.

Almost all state leasing contracts include utilities, maintenance, and "goodies" like painting and recarpeting. For a state-owned building, all of that comes out of pocket.

While I have no research or documentation to show one way or another, what I was given to understand is that it's a lot less expensive for the state to lease a building than to purchase one. Also, leased buildings tend to be newer, safer and better maintained. It also takes the state out of the property owner liability equation.

The other thing he discussed was San Quentin. His argument was that the only reason that San Quentin is the only prison in California that does executions is because attorneys are fighting to keep it that.

You see, state attorneys that work in the Bay Area earn about twice as much per hour as the ones that work in the Capitol area.

Let's follow the dots, shall we?

It costs the state about twice as much to fight death sentence verdict appeals in the Bay Area as it would if those same cases were heard in the Capitol.

Hmm.. Interesting.

Further, if the state were to close down San Quen completely and, say, sell the property, it would go for what I have been assured is "a shit load"*. I'm willing to bet that, if one were to look at the numbers, one could build a brand spanky new (larger) prison, move everyone to it, and move Death Row back to Folsom, and still have a fatty chunk of that "shit load" left.

And the reason it's not being done is because it costs the state more to fight appeals in the Bay Area attorneys are fighting to keep San Quen open because it's really good job security.

Can you just imagine the boost to the economy that building a new prison and relocating all the prisoners would be?

Think of all those people and businesses earning all that money, spending it, and giving back by way of income, property and sales taxes.

In Summation

What I'm trying to say is that it's time that state lawmakers climb their $127,743-in-per-diem-earning asses out of the box and take a good hard look at how the state spends its money, on what, and what it can do to more efficiently and effectively use the resources it has available.

That is the only way that the state will truly be able to climb out of its fiscal black hole.

*If you don't love the Wine Dog already, I just don't understand why not

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