A world with real consequences
By Jedd Medefind
Written for Assemblyman Tim Leslie
At times the thought of living in a “virtual” world is appealing—a realm with no consequences, no piper to pay for bad decisions, no whirlwind to reap from wind we have sown.
Unfortunately for the political leaders who have held California’s reins for the past four years, and for the rest of us as well, we do not inhabit such a world. Decisions and policies do have consequences. Serious consequences.
Consider the state budget. Just a few years back, state tax coffers were overflowing with unexpected tax revenue from the booming stock market. Prudence—knowing that stock markets rise and fall—dictated that any extra funds not returned to taxpayers should either be invested in one-time projects like water, transportation and school infrastructure, or saved for less prosperous years.
Instead, budgets were planned as if the windfall revenues were permanent. Governmental expenditures boomed by 36% and bureaucracy grew like Bermuda grass. Even when it became clear that the extra revenue was drying up, the spending continued and difficult decisions were avoided through borrowing and accounting gimmicks.
Only now that the 2002 elections are well behind us are we realizing the enormous impact of our irresponsibility. The consequences are not merely large numbers written on budget reports in red ink. Educators and taxpayers, old and young, rich and poor, commerce as well as the environment—all suffer when government fails to recognize basic laws of finance.
The budget is not the only area in which wind sown through irresponsible policies is returning on us in a roaring whirlwind of consequences. Less obvious, but perhaps even more harmful in the long run, is the stance the majority party has taken towards California’s business community.
It would appear commonsensical to observe that farmers, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and other commercial enterprises are California’s primary job creators, paycheck-writers, service and goods providers, and tax generators. While oversight of these businesses is a vital function of government, businesses are not enemies. They should be seen as principal partners in making our state all it can be.
Legislation coming out of Sacramento recently, however, would lead one to believe the Legislature views the business community as both a monster to be shackled and a cash cow to be milked until dry. Of course, this legislation has consequences too.
California’s reputation as a place of commerce has dropped precipitously over the past four years. In the brief span of Gray Davis’ tenure as governor, an annual survey of business executives nationwide saw California fall from the ranks of the top 10 states in which to operate a business to the bottom 10. The “Small Business Survival Index,” which ranks how “state and local governments treat small businesses and entrepreneurs” also places California in its ten worst, dropping from 44st to 46th in the most recent ranking. Just this past September, a survey of senior corporate officials by Development Counselors International ranked California as the absolute worst state in which to expand or relocate.
More poignant than numbers are stories from life in the real world. And in recent months I have heard many. Wineries closing because laws have exposed them to frivolous lawsuits. Family farms sold due to sky-high electricity costs. Employees released because recent increases in workman comp insurance cost the small enterprise as much as three full-time salaries.
Just last week, Hewlett-Packard disclosed its plans to relocate 500 Sacramento-area jobs to Texas. The week before, Buck Knives, one of America’s landmark businesses, announced it will be leaving southern California for Idaho, taking with it 250 jobs. The local County Supervisor, Diane Jacob, observed, “I think this is just the beginning of the exodus of businesses in the state unless there are sweeping reforms in the way we treat businesses.” Policies have consequences.
Only a fundamental shift in the Legislature’s paradigm to policy-making will set our state back on the right track. California’s leaders desperately need a renewed awareness that policies and actions do have profound consequences, many of them unintended.
I believe this awareness only comes as ordinary citizens share their stories with elected officials. I encourage you to be a part of that process. Contact your elected officials—from the governor on down—and paint your experiences in full color. Send them to me as well, at email@example.com, and I will certainly pass them on. We must help California’s leaders make that critical connection between policy decisions and the real world, between choices and consequences.
--Tim Leslie is Assemblyman of California’s 4th Assembly District, which reaches from the Sacramento metropolitan area to Lake Tahoe.