The California Legislature ended its session a couple of weeks ago with a lot of unfinished business, most importantly without passing a budget, which is in violation of the state's Constitution.
This is irresponsible of both Democrats and Republicans, especially because we have one of the 10 largest economies in the world and certainly the largest of any state. It's no wonder that voter approval of our state Legislature is below 10%, a record low. Something is very broken in Sacramento.
We are in dire need of authentic leadership. We need leadership with vision, character and capacity, especially the ability to build consensus to achieve solutions to big problems. I've been thinking whether this is possible given how ugly and polarized politics has become, thus discouraging talented people from entering the political arena.
One thing is clear: Voters are furious with this situation. Legislators, rather than tackling the most difficult and critical issues, instead seem to be playing on the sidelines with less important legislation. It reminds me of what I sometimes used to do growing up where I would busy myself with anything but my real homework. I quickly learned that leads to Ds and Fs, so I changed my ways, especially after a few stern lectures from my parents. It's time for Sacramento to meet the parents — the voters.
Thousands of bills are introduced during each session of the Legislature, with a majority going nowhere. This is congesting the legislative system to the point of paralysis. The purpose of introducing bills seems to have changed from setting policy to instead serving special interests or self-promotion.
Here's an example. After the city of Bell fiasco — where the exorbitant salary of former Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams became known — questions arose about Glendale's liability for Adams' retirement pension. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, representing Glendale, rightfully introduced legislation in August that would protect cities from unjust pension obligations based on another city's significantly higher pay for that same person, sometimes referred to as pension "spiking." It's a good idea, but the problem is the bill was introduced weeks before the session was to expire so couldn't have realistically been addressed in such a short time.
This particular bill is in the graveyard along with other bills, and will need to be reintroduced next year. Yet this fact didn't deter the quick public relations effort announcing the bill and positioning it seemingly as a legislative accomplishment. Introducing a bill is not a big accomplishment; passing a bill and executing a law is.
Don't get me wrong; I appreciate my assemblyman's effort. And I have high hopes for his future accomplishments on this and other important matters, should voters elect him to a full term in November. But the point isn't about any particular member of the state Legislature; rather it's about the principle that talk is cheap, and voters are tired of the smoke-and-mirrors game. Voters want real and tangible actions by our legislators that will have a meaningful impact on their lives.
We should hold our elected leaders to a higher standard, whether on the local, state or national levels, before giving credit for an accomplishment. In my view, the bills must first be passed, which is the harder part. It's only then that authentic credit is earned; otherwise, spare us the lip service, the e-mails and the mailers.
Many compare making laws to making sausages, a messy process entrusted to our elected representatives. However, it's clear our legislature has lost the public's trust. To begin rebuilding that trust, legislators have to demonstrate that they can actually get things done.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, "The execution of the laws is more important than the making of them." His point is equally relevant and poignant today as it was during the founding years of our nation.