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Sacramento can’t have it both ways

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POSTED January 2, 2010 3:38 a.m.
Remember the name Frank Roesch.

He’s an Alameda County Superior Court judge who may go down in California history books as the jurist who threw cold water on the collective face of those trying to govern this state from another dimension.

Roesch on Thursday ruled Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have the legal authority to force many of the state’s workers to take three unpaid furlough days each month. It will ultimately mean those workers are entitled to back pay – plus interest – to provide yet another nail in California’s ever-expanding financial coffin.

Naturally, the official line from the governor’s office delivered by spokesman Adam McLear was predictable much like the script to a Terminator movie. “There’s no reason state workers should be shielded from the same economical realities the rest of the state is facing,” McLear is quoted as saying.

Schwarzenegger’s spokesman has a point but that wasn’t the gist of Roesch’s ruling.

The judge made it clear the state broke its own laws.

It is about time someone called Sacramento on the carpet for imposing laws and mandates and then effectively declaring an elected officials’ version of martial law to suspend previously adopted law whenever a fiscal emergency arises or else they need to free up tax revenue it to fit their political agenda.

Roesch clearly ruled Schwarzenegger ignored a state law that entitles state employees to have a 40-hour work week with changes only allowed “to meet the varying needs of state agencies.”

Schwarzenegger also furloughed workers in state agencies run almost 100 percent with federal funds or users’ fees like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Earlier, another judge declared the furloughs ordered for the State Compensation Insurance Fund were illegal as they were paid by fees leveled against businesses and not from the general fund.

Spreading the pain is a nice warm fuzzy concept but it ignores the real problem which is how unwieldy the bureaucracy has become in the name of conducting the state’s business.

The ruling ultimately will boomerang against some of the state workers who prevailed as the state will have no choice but to come up with ways to reduce spending. And since personnel costs are the biggest part of the state budget it means jobs will have to be eliminated.

That is what Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature should have done in the first place – cut jobs.

The most effective way to do that is rethink how the state conducts its business and delivers services. The goal would be to reduce the workforce while minimizing the impact on services. That means redundancy will have to go. The state will have to determine what is important and what isn’t among its web of regulations and laws and eliminate what is necessary to get the state on a solid financial course.

Naturally, no self-serving politician is going to do that since they are beholden to special interests and put their re-election and egos above the greater good of California.

It is not simply the fault of the sitting governor. The 120 men and women in the California Legislature have a tendency to stick their head in the sand when times call for painful and tough action. Of course, we’re responsible too as we are always demanding more services but we don’t want out taxes raised.

The party is over.

If Sacramento doubts that, after years of being pushed, kicked and shaken down for money every time the state runs into a spending problem or has a pet project to appease a constituency but can’t fund it they foist it as an unfunded mandate on cities and counties, local government is fighting back.

They’ve filled lawsuits and they are going to the ballot.

Those who have been whining for the past 30 plus years that Proposition 13 somehow destroyed government in California – it didn’t – really won’t like what will happen in the coming months.

The state’s inaction in the current budget crisis coupled with its siphoning off of local money that is seriously imperiling municipal services will ultimately bring the bureaucracy to its knees not through well-thought out surgical moves but severe bloodletting.

It is what happens when those in power refuse to govern and abdicate responsibility to the courts and the people via ballot propositions.
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