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What I Would Do If I Were Governor

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I agreed to be on a panel at UC Berkeley's Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service Monday night, where we addressed the question "California's Next Governor: What Should the Agenda Be?" Here's my agenda for her or him.

California voters are looking for two things -- a strong economy and a stable government. The new governor can start by working on a solid budget. It's time to end the roller-coaster ride by paring state government to a sustainable size and paying fairly for that package.

Given that Californians voted 2-to-1 against higher taxes last year, that means more spending cuts. Start with the obvious stuff that should have happened years ago: Eliminate 88 boards and commissions.

Consolidate government bureaucracies, as suggested in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review. Merge state agencies as if they were high-tech firms, and then eliminate redundant positions.

Pensions have to change. Move to a defined contribution plan that pays people to work instead of rewarding them for retiring early. Lifetime medical benefits for retirees and their spouses have to go. Find a way to take away lifetime medical benefits for state workers who retire as young as age 50. These benefits do nothing for taxpayers or the state's needy.

In a perfect world, a governor would be able to balance the state budget without tax increases. But California isn't perfect -- it's a heavily Democratic state. So what taxes would be on the table? How about Proposition 13? Don't tear it up, just raise the amount by which property taxes can increase annually from 2 percent to, say, 2.5 percent or index an increase to inflation. There needs to be more fairness in the system. A proposition designed to keep homeowners from losing their houses because of rising real estate prices shouldn't enable seniors to pay a pittance while they happily elect big spenders with no fear of paying the piper.

If I were governor, I'd fight tax increases. But if they must happen, I would push for increases that everyone absorbs. No more chasing rich taxpayers out of state because they're an easy-to-target minority.

But if folks want a freebie, there are always new state leases for offshore oil drilling, and legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.

A state with an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent and a $19 billion budget shortfall cannot afford illegal immigration. If I were governor, I'd try to limit benefits and services to illegal immigrants and push for tougher penalties for employers who hire them.

Dump any environmental law that originally was billed as a model for the rest of the nation. These measures drive up the cost of doing business, and this state needs jobs.

It's easy to run against the Legislature, but there are good lawmakers. The next governor should set up portfolios -- for corrections, education, transportation, etc. -- and ask problem solvers from both parties to find ways to cut costs and improve services.

Then announce that if the Legislature meets specific goals, you'll campaign to end term limits. Call it a contract with the voters. Broker a deal that allows Sacramento to earn the voters' trust by delivering a budget that won't drive the state to another precipice.

Make voters want to treat lawmakers like adults.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.                          

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