California's cautionary tale
For a gripping lesson in budget management, look no further than the celebrities in the California state legislature. Entertainment is one of California's most productive industries, and few dramas have a larger audience than the annual budget quagmire in the state capitol. California is a sundrenched, gridlocked microcosm of our national budget picture: perpetual deficits, a minority party that has a disproportionate amount of political power, and a budget that is seemingly never passed on time. Unfortunately, California has become a bubbly, vivacious caricature for legislative incompetence.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the budget process is the narrow vision used by numerous legislators. Many appear to be constrained by inflexible ideological beliefs, district limits, or party lines. Although a balanced budget would require compromise by all stakeholders, no constituency wants to be singled out for an increase in taxes or decrease in funding. A legislator burdening his own district would be considered treasonous, regardless of the greater good that may be served by such an act. Therefore, Californians receive a budget that is slashed, gutted, and manipulated into a balance that serves everyone except the entire state of California. This inability to transcend petty line item issues has led to a comically low 14 percent approval rating. Many Californians appear tired of short term, local considerations trumping holistic decision-making.
Ideally, we'd have a means of incentivizing our political leaders to make decisions based on the needs of the whole. The pain of neglecting our shared fate far outweighs short-term worries about tax hikes and spending reductions. California's crisis should provide a warning about what's really at stake. After years of leaving these issues unaddressed, the people of California have faced our own painful truth: an absurdly low state credit rating, a world-renowned university system bleeding money, and, in 2009, sheepishly delivering IOUs as a form of payment to businesses with government contracts. This isn't the type of drama we want to see in Washington. -- Lanre Akinsiku
The legacy of waste
Upon his release of the budget blueprint for the next year, President Obama explained, "We simply cannot continue to spend as if deficits don't have consequences, as if waste doesn't matter, as if the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like Monopoly money, as if we can ignore this challenge for another generation."
Americans can only handle the painful truth about government budget deficits so long as legislators continue to acknowledge the mistrust they instill from wasteful, careless spending. The president, along with others before him, is taking the time to convince his constituents that this time, things will be different. Unlike previous instances, these appropriations will efficiently achieve successful governance.
According to Citizens Against Government, the self-proclaimed "America's #1 taxpayer watchdog," over 10,000 projects cost taxpayers $19.6 billion of appropriated moneys in the last year. None of these were awarded competitively, authorized by the president, or geared towards local interest.
With billions of dollars used for pork-barrel spending, it is no wonder citizens are disenchanted with the budget process. The truth of tax increases and cuts in government services come secondary to a simplistic view of efficient spending, avoiding taxes, and maintaining services. A wasteful government is something neither Democrats nor Republicans agree with. Leaders on both sides who can continue to acknowledge this shortfall. In the case of Obama, success with his spending freeze and budget (in the eyes of the public) will be contingent upon tackling unnecessary spending. -- Parsa Sobhani
Drastic change -- for someone else
To simply answer the question: No! The status quo finds comfort in a static political climate. Drastic changes seem to be the goal of many, except when it concerns their specific special interest. California is a prime example.
Currently, the Los Angeles and San Francisco Coro classes are preparing a mock California Constitutional Convention in Sacramento. By interviewing and engaging with various political leaders, we are beginning to understand the deadlock caused by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the current constitutional model, at the expense of what many consider necessary change.
This raises a well-known dilemma: At what point do we sacrifice our individual wants for communal needs? Who makes that decision? In the end, it is an effort that includes both our leaders and the American people. We can ask our leaders to create change, but it is an equation that includes the education and action of the American people. I want to see a more communal effort focused on systematic change rather than an individual focus. Can we do it? Yes we can! -- Frank Rodriguez
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