THE WARREN REPORT: Consequences

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WarrenFurutani2013By WARREN FURUTANI

During my tenure in the California Assembly, the electorate voted to change the threshold to pass the state’s annual budget from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority (Proposition 25, November 2010). Another aspect of this policy change beyond the vote threshold was the condition that if the budget wasn’t passed by the constitutional deadline, there would be consequences.

This ended a practice where the minority party could and would hold the majority of the legislative body hostage while they extorted the institution for policy and personal political benefits (e.g. a political appointment when they leave office) in exchange for their vote on the budget. While this two-thirds policy existed, we had marathon budget sessions and never met the budget deadline until the minority extracted from the majority what they could get.

This game of political brinkmanship is still seen today on the federal level, where a minority group of senators, through a filibuster, and a minority of “Tea Party” Republicans are shutting down the government while they try to extort concessions from the president on policy issues of their concern (e.g. Obamacare).

As I mentioned about the change in state policy, if the deadline was not met, then there were consequences. The consequences were that a not-on-time budget meant no pay for the legislators, nor would they get “back pay” once the budget was passed.

While I served, we missed the deadline once. We turned in a budget (to the governor) on time but it was deemed unbalanced so not valid, and each legislator lost about $5,000 in pay.

At the federal level, as government employees are being furloughed and certain services are being cut, the Congress still gets paid. The 27th Amendment, passed in 1992, protects their pay during these “shutdowns.” I know there is all this testimony about upholding principles and standing up for their beliefs, but I wonder if our elected officials would be as cavalier about shutting down the government if they didn’t get paid during the duration with no back-pay provisions.

It seems patently hypocritical that innocent employees lose pay and the public loses services while those who caused the problem keep getting theirs. Just maybe this would be an incentive to deal with this problem even though many members in Congress are rich enough not to be affected by this kind of consequence.

I still think it would get their attention so that the brinksmanship and grandstanding would be significantly curtailed and the “shutdown” of government wouldn’t be a constantly used form of extortion in “This Town” (referring to the best-seller about Washington, D.C. by Mark Leibovich).

Warren Furutani is a former member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, California State Assembly, and Los Angeles Board of Public Works. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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