Politicians fiddle while spending sinks CaliforniaFeather Publishing3/24/2010
It's no secret, and it shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone living in Plumas and Lassen counties - the state of California faces a fiscal crisis of frightening and historic proportions that's not likely to be resolved anytime soon.
While legislators, politicians and pundits try to place the blame and offer possible stopgap solutions, most of them ignore the simple, down-to-earth reality faced by every household in the state trying to balance its checkbook and keep food on the table and every business leader from San Ysidro to Fort Dick struggling to stay in business and make payroll every week: You can't spend money you don't have.
Case in point: Last year the state issued IOUs to contractors, furloughed state workers, froze spending on public works projects, enjoyed the lowest credit rating of any state in the union and raised taxes and fees on citizens and businesses alike.
Sadly, that isn't the case when it comes to our lawmakers and their precious aides. Last week, the first order of business for newly sworn-in Assembly Speaker John Prez, D-Los Angeles, was to give his top aide a $5,400 per month raise, putting her annual salary at $190,000.
Perez and several other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle justified the increase because "her duties and hours will increase significantly." Uh huh.
How's that for a blatant in-your-face to our resolute state workers - who provide essential services to the public - and the rest of California's struggling taxpayers?
The Sacramento Bee reported last week the raises and promotions resulting in the change in leadership alone would cost the state about $216,000 per year.
Incidentally, Prez's predecessor, Karen Bass, provided pay increases or promotions to 20 of her staffers on her final day as Assembly leader. That's in addition to the huge raises she gave many of them when she took the leadership role a few years back. Aren't they doing less work now? Shouldn't they take a cut in pay?
On another alarming front: In neighboring Susanville, the state can't pay a single penny of its share of school construction costs for projects at three local schools, but it plans to build a $39 million courthouse there this summer.
Granted, a new facility has been the topic of conversation for the past decade, is needed and was budgeted before this fiscal crisis hit - but so what?
Since that time, circumstances have dramatically changed; we have a huge state deficit and not nearly enough income to pay the bills we already owe.
The state should put the new courthouse project on hold until the economic climate improves or reduce its total cost and come up with a more modest facility we can afford. Hard times require hard decisions, and now, more than ever, we should be as fiscally conservative and responsible as possible
The state should take a lesson from the pragmatic approach shown by the Plumas District Hospital board and staff when they first looked at building a new hospital in Quincy. They knew early on -despite how much they might have liked all the added bells and whistles - they had to make those hard decisions and whittle away at the original $40 million construction estimates to bring them to the present justifiable $20 million price tag. That will ultimately be money well spent.