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'Tommy Bahama State Beach' might be the only way to go

Politics and GovernmentBudgets and BudgetingState BudgetsTourism and LeisureTravelGovernment

Maybe it's the summer heat. Or maybe, like a lot of people, I've given up all hope of any bold leadership in California when it comes to the budget.

Whatever the reason, I'm getting more comfortable with the idea of a beer company sponsoring a state beach, if that's what it will take to keep it open.

State parks spokesman Roy Stearns told The Times how it might work: "For example, if Budweiser came forward with enough money for Malibu Beach State Park," he said, "we wouldn't change the name to Budweiser Beach. But why not put up a banner saying, 'This park is kept open by Budweiser' for as long as they continue helping us?' "

It might be the only way to go, after Gov. Schwarzenegger went after the state parks budget with a wood chipper last week, nearly doubling the cut to $14.2 million. That means as many as 100 state parks could be shut down.

If you've seen the way middle-aged men dress in Orange County, you have to ask yourself why Tommy Bahama doesn't catch a PR wave by sponsoring state beaches at Crystal Cove and San Clemente. I imagine the San Diego peninsula would support a Viagra boost for Torrey Pines State Beach, and if anyone's got a contact for the Taliban, let's see if they'd like to adopt the California Poppy Reserve.

I'm even more willing to go this route after meeting last week with state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who had just returned home to Los Angeles from the bloody budget battles, in which roughly $25 billion was slashed from the budget.

"Meetings with the governor were like going to Gitmo," said Bass, and "budget negotiations were like water-boarding."

Reluctantly, the Democrat had a hand in bulldozing much of what she has spent a career building, with cuts that will most severely affect low-income Californians in the areas of healthcare, elder care, education and beyond.

"It's tough to sit in a room with people making decisions about people's lives, and you know they don't have a clue what those people's lives are like," Bass said.

Yeah, but what do we do about it?

Bass and I went over all the usual fixes, but as for the likelihood of them ever being enacted, there's a better chance of my dancing the "Nutcracker" with the Los Angeles Ballet. And I'm not holding my breath that Philip Morris is going to sign on to sponsor Patton State Hospital.

So what's left? Lower the two-thirds requirement on budget votes, so a minority of legislators don't hold more power than the majority and stall every budget? Yeah, and the Clippers win the NBA.

Combine smart cuts with new revenue streams that make us less reliant on the ebb and flow of income taxes? Howard Jarvis has more of a pulse than that idea.

Expand term limits so legislators are in office long enough to figure out what they're doing? No, we prefer to have novices handling our money.

"I'm not embarrassed to admit that I'm an amateur," Bass said.

What voters didn't realize when they enacted severe term limits, she said, was that they turned the operation of the state over to lobbyists and staff members. They're the only ones who remain in Sacramento long enough to know where the bathrooms are, and they end up dominating the legislative process.

That means state healthcare reform doesn't stand a chance, because the insurance industry bankrolls the GOP.

And we're not likely to put aside rainy-day savings because public employee unions own the Democrats.

So there I was in Bass' office, feeling depressed all over again.

Did she have any other fixes?

Well, she said, maybe the governor's tax commission, also known as the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, will come up with something.

With all due respect, I'm willing to bet my mortgage and all three of my children that anything called the Commission on the 21st Century Economy is doomed out of the box. They're going to take at least two years to produce an unreadable 260-page report that concludes with a recommendation to revisit the issue early in the 22nd century.

Will they adjust Prop. 13 to have businesses pay more of their fair share of property taxes? Negative. When Warren Buffett recommended some tinkering with that sacred cow, Gov. Schwarzenegger sent him back to Omaha on the next corporate jet.

Will they tax oil drilling in California? Not unless all proceeds are dedicated to the roundup and deportation of illegal immigrants, and even then, the ghost of Howard Jarvis would rise up and say, "No way, Jose."

Bass would settle for a tax on candy and snack food, saying that would raise $400 million to $500 million a year. But that would require a constitutional amendment, she said, because "the candy and snack lobby wrote into the Constitution that you can't do it."

Do you see why I'm warming to the idea of Budweiser State Beach?

It's the most plausible course, if you don't count splitting the state in two, dividing it into a tax-and-spend blue coastal state and a dusty red interior where Obama is a Kenyan and everyone's on their own. In the red California, I'd include part of the Orange County coast and of course San Diego, where you could have 50 people die in a fire next door to a shut-down firehouse, and still have voters turn down a half-cent sales tax to reopen it.

Heading back downtown from Bass' office, I saw so many nitwit drivers either texting or gabbing on phones, I'd like to ban all cellphone and BlackBerry use while driving and fine the offenders $10,000. Every half-dozen tickets could save a teacher's job.

By the way, I checked with the state parks department to see if they've gotten any sponsorship offers, and the answer was yes.

"We've had a lot of people calling," information officer Sheryl Watson said. "Nonprofits, individuals, groups and businesses."

She said no deals have been finalized and it's too soon to disclose more information.

But it's not too soon to come up with your own suggestions. And don't feel as though you have to limit yourself to parks.

The Golden State Freeway could be sponsored by Mapquest.

The CHP by Chips Ahoy.

The Legislature by Phillips' Milk of Magnesia.

Healthy Families by Lucky Charms.

Our history, our soul, it's all for sale. Send me your best suggestions and you might win a picnic lunch with me at Will Rogers State Beach, if it's still open.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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