The recent announcement by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that California is facing a $26 billion deficit, just as the legislature passed an historically late 100 days past due budget, is not really a surprise, is it?
It seems that the definition of insanity is alive and well in Sacramento – they keep trying the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. So here are some offerings that will hopefully spark an interest in starting clean, especially as the legislature and Governor-elect prepares California students, the elderly and the poor for another round of drastic cuts.
We pay legislators roughly $170 in per diem to go to work and pay for the cost of living near the Capitol. Most often this funding goes to pay for rent on homes used by Assembly members and State Senators, who often rent from current and/or former legislators, who bought homes using, in part, the per diem allocated to them.
According to the Department of General Services (DGS), the state owns over 160 buildings in the Sacramento area. Why not renovate one or two of those buildings, consolidate state offices (staffing is decreasing anyway so there’s more space) and create dormitories where the legislators can bunk up?
Establish a meeting room on the bottom floor where constituents and industry representatives can meet elected officials in a transparent environment complete with public record, ending the need to pay per diem and hold meetings behind closed doors or at fancy steak houses.
The cost savings could be considerable as the state pays out over $4 million to legislators every year in per diem. That cost could go towards renovating and maintaining such a housing unit. Over time the place pays for itself and there is greater accountability.
Removing legislative gas cards is the next step. There is no set budget for the cards and the state maintains very poor record keeping. Who knows who is actually using the cards? But unlike a corporate setting where you seek out the job, get hired and obtain reimbursement for travel, legislators run for office with the understanding that they are there to serve the public and find solutions, not add to the deficit problem.
These are suggestions that, at the very least, ask the state to consider a self-review of how it works – if they decide to look deeper in to these options, great; if not, perhaps they will consider them as a temporary program cut. Something they often tell the rest of us must be accepted and is needed to wheather these troubling times.
Richard Garcia resides in Montebello, CA and is a founding member of The Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles. The opinion expressed here is his own.