The Editor's Desk

June 17, 2011

California needs a part-time Legislature

Here’s more evidence that we need a part-time Legislature in California: It took lawmakers almost six months to come up with a phony budget, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed within hours of its passage. Part-timers couldn’t have done any worse, and likely would have solved the problem.

Here’s more evidence that we need a part-time Legislature in California: It took lawmakers almost six months to come up with a phony budget, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed within hours of its passage. Part-timers couldn’t have done any worse, and likely would have solved the problem.

The Sacramento political establishment scoffs at the thought of a part-time Legislature for many reasons. If lawmakers are part time, their staffs would be part time. The public relations professionals and lobbyists, who operate full time, would have less work.

A full-time but dysfunctional California Legislature works for everyone except the taxpayer. We have a system in Sacramento that has morphed into a moneytree for the political class.

That’s why the minions jump to lawmakers’ defense when there’s talk of cutting their pay, taking their cars, limiting their per diem payments. When the lawmakers get perks, they trickle down to the insiders.

Watching the California budget mess from afar offers a much different perspective than the one relayed to the rest of the state by the Sacramento insiders. From 180 miles away, many of us see the system as unworkable, a fact confirmed by the annual lack of a balanced budget over the years.

There needs to be fundamental change in Sacramento, not the so-called reforms the politicians offer to protect their jobs. The insiders see nothing wrong with the system, and say just a bit more negotiating will yield results that will benefit all Californians.

How many times do we have to listen to this before we decide that nothing really changes — not even when you have a new governor who made the first six months of his term all about getting a balanced budget.

The Legislature can’t help itself and always defaults to its do-nothing mode.

A part-time Legislature, meeting six months out of the year, would give us lawmakers who spend much of their time in the real world, working real jobs, and understanding personally the impact of the law they pass.

We haven’t always had a full-time Legislature. The change came in 1966, and the idea was to create a professional legislative body that had the expertise to deal with an increasingly complex society. Instead, we got professional politicians whose main goals were to protect their seats and take care of their friends.

There have been a few initiatives circulated recently to create a part-time Legislature, but they were severely flawed and easily blocked. But one of these days, someone with enough money to get a well-crafted measure on the ballot will come forth and the voters will embrace the idea.

Every legislative session, the idea gets more traction as the Democrats play games with their political pals and the Republicans refuse to be a part of the process.

Part-time lawmakers would have more of a connection to the people who pay the bills and live under the laws and programs the Legislature creates. The full-time Legislature connects with political professionals and the organizations that have something to gain by being cozy with lawmakers.

It’s clear that the current system needs bold changes, but those who benefit from it will resist. That’s why they wave off the idea of a part-time Legislature as unworkable.

Of course, they know a thing or two about something being unworkable, and that’s the problem.

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About Jim Boren

Jim Boren

@jboren4507

Jim Boren is the executive editor of The Fresno Bee. Contact him at jboren@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6307.

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