For those of us serving as elected officials and trying to make government more responsive, the situation couldn't be clearer: our system of government in California is broken.
How do you want your children to live? What is your vision of our state going forward? How can we pool our money to finance vital services, like education and transportation? These are vital questions that need answers soon, or it will get worse. We believe a realignment of state and local government is needed. A return to more local control of both taxation and spending is essential.
California is facing high unemployment, shrinking revenues, lack of investment in the future, and profound despair that things will not change. Proposed solutions are short-term fixes, while long-term implications are often ignored. It's more than economics; it is a state government structure that can't function in difficult times.
This summer, a remarkable bipartisan summit of more than 500 local government officials from cities, counties and school boards throughout the state met to create action plans. They reviewed survey results from national pollsters revealing that people prefer more local control and trust local government to respond to their needs more effectively.
No one political party has all the answers, yet in California, minority rule drives budget decisions. California is one of three states requiring a two-thirds vote to put a budget on the governor's desk (which he can 'blue pencil' -- cutting almost whatever he wants).
About 75 percent of local money is provided by state government. When the state gets into political and financial paralysis, it inevitably looks to local government for funds -- regardless of how well a city council or school board manages its budget. As a result, local investment on infrastructure, economic development and education is hampered.
A stark example of this is the constitutional requirement that public education has first priority on public funds. Regardless, the state has cut education funds repeatedly over the last 20 years, despite who is governor.
At the same time, Sacramento mandates that local governments carry out an array of programs. This severely aggravates local fiscal challenges. The inherent strength of community level government is then dissipated in education and in health care, for small businesses, housing, and senior, child, and family care. Local and state budget sessions degenerate into debates about taking funds from one group to sustain others.
One group at the summit called for a statewide constitutional convention to address the weaknesses in the constitution regarding financial management and budgeting. It will take years but will provide long-term fixes on how the state manages its finances. Others recommended constitutional amendments or initiatives to address a simple majority for creating state budgets and changes in term limits. We believe a fiscal system that provides increased performance, transparency and accountability is needed.
Let's begin an honest non-rhetorical discussion about a vision of what kind of state we want to live in, and how we can pool our finite resources for the benefit of all. We see that happening with local government moving to the forefront.
This is one of those defining moments where grassroot interest must grow into commitment to change. Town hall meetings are starting to happen in counties throughout the state including the Tri-Valley. Contact us if you want to join. You are needed.
John Ledahl is a three-term Dublin school board trustee (email@example.com); Tim Sbranti was elected mayor of Dublin in 2008, (firstname.lastname@example.org); and Scott Haggerty was reelected in 2008 as First District Alameda County Supervisor, (email@example.com).
John Ledahl, Dublin school board trustee; Tim Sbranti, Dublin mayor; and Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Supervisor