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Dunn & Done

By Lucy Dunn

Dunn & Done
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Millions, Billions, Gazillions: But where are the reforms and innovations?

Have you noticed? Everyone’s asking for more taxpayer funding.

For education, Sacramento majority leadership wants voters to approve a seven year tax increase of “billions” in new funding, yet it may not really fund education per se but general state government; a competing, private ballot measure seeks “billions” for the classroom under a status quo education system.

The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court was in Orange County last month and presented a well-articulated case for more funding for the California court system. The proposed budget before the state legislature includes $500 million in cuts to the court system. Courtrooms will be closed, civil cases delayed further, trials will be deferred to retired judges for mediation instead of juries. Justice delayed is justice denied.

A Statewide Needs Assessment on Infrastructure was recently released showing that a $300 billion funding shortfall is guaranteed over the next 10 years to keep the current transportation, goods movement, transit systems operational—no added road capacity for population growth.

Affordable housing advocates need “billions” especially since the demise of redevelopment agencies and the onerous regulatory requirements for any type of housing make it very expensive to build. Supportive home services—keeping grandma at home instead of in a nursing facility—require millions (or is it billions with our aging population?) to keep the care givers in service.

Millions, billions, gazillions.  It’s mind-numbing the financial demands. Yet, this money—your tax dollars—is only one leg of a three-legged stool as I see it. The other two legs are obvious government reforms and new products/technologies. Where are the “honest brokers” within government that see the need for these changes we find so compelling? What assurance is offered that more money isn’t being thrown at “more of the same” government inefficiencies, duplicative regulations, process uncertainties, and ineffective or nonexistent performance metrics?  

For example: 

Education: More money hasn’t helped so far—schools get one-half the state’s budget now. Student performance metrics aren’t significantly better, however. How about moving K-12 education back to local control? How about an Education Code with only 600 standards instead of 6,000? Study after study shows that California’s education system is a mess. Isn’t there a major reform or two or three to pass now as evidence that education is worthy of more funding?

Courts:  How are you helping to curtail the plethora of frivolous litigation?  Are you proactively teaching the trial bar that those proverbial “nail salon” cases, for example, shouldn’t clog the system and use up valuable court time? Is it reasonable that one third of California businesses got hit with class action suits in one 18 month period? Why should a legal system be funded that won’t realign so California is no longer the “most litigious state” in the union?

Transportation:  Where is the support for new project delivery systems like public-private partnerships, design- build; for new construction products, traffic management technology? Why are there duplicative environmental reviews, and state government agencies suing each other to delay local road projects using local funding.

And we haven’t even hit the $500 billion crater needed to fix government pension shortfalls, yet solid pension reform measures by the administration seem frozen in the legislature.

You get the drift.

Without a concurrent discussion on reforms and innovation, the cry for millions, billions and gazillions results in a collective yawn.  It isn’t about quantity, but quality of funding.

Remember: Business contracted and reinvented and—especially suffering small businesses—entered a “new normal” in 2006 when the economy tanked. Government is six years overdue in modernizing for a global 21st century competitive economy that values efficiency and effectiveness. California’s future depends on it.

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