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Our View: Brown visit hard to interpret

Our View

Posted: May 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, walk the campus of Hart High School during Brown’s visit to the Newhall school April 21 to discuss state budget cuts. California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, walk the campus of Hart High School during Brown’s visit to the Newhall school April 21 to discuss state budget cuts.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, walk the campus of Hart High School during Brown’s visit to the Newhall school April 21 to discuss state budget cuts.

Gov. Jerry Brown was in Santa Clarita recently to champion his five-year tax-extension plan and rant about the dire consequence to education and public safety if we don’t follow his lead.

The audience was an invitation-only collection of local leaders of various persuasions.

By most accounts, the event was well-received, and the substantive reactions were as varied as you might expect for such an important set of issues.

Our reaction to all this is, in a word — “conflicted.”

Our untainted heart says this is a good thing.

The more discussion that occurs on severe and pressing budget deficits among people of different political views at all levels, the better.

This Editorial Board has called for more bipartisan discussion, and we openly applaud the governor, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, and 200 local leaders engaging in the issues of the day right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

What could be better?

Our brain, however, has a different perspective. The brain has jettisoned, without ceremony, the Pollyanna view of the heart, and says this was a pandering political stunt.

Well, which is it? We suspect it is a certain amount of both.

From the heart: Multilevel interface on important issues is always better. Any dialog that wrestles the exclusive discussion away from Sacramento titans — like both parties’ caucuses and government unions, both frozen in their ideologies — can only be an improvement and produce better solutions.

Additionally, The Signal Editorial Board has often applauded Smyth for his willingness to cross the aisle in the spirit of compromise, even on issues on which we disagreed. That is how a representative government is supposed to work.

Although we see as yet little measurable progress toward a budget solution, last month’s talks inside Santa Clarita and outside Sacramento, no matter how shameless and distorted, encouraged an optimistic heart.

Counter to the heart is a brain made cynical by the shenanigans of elected people who simply can’t do their jobs or rise to the occasion.

Despite the high-road appearance of the Santa Clarita event, the people Brown invited — about 150 of the total 200 — were limited to educators and law enforcement. Even readers who are not cynical can see where this is headed.

Twice during the staged event, Brown called on the audience to stand up in support of more education cuts. And the response was ... well, what would you expect from a bevy of educators seasoned with a handful of public-safety officials?

That leaves the Democratic governor free to go back to Sacramento and brag that even in a Republican stronghold like the Santa Clarita Valley, no one would call for more cuts to education.

And in Brown’s black-and-white view of the state-budget situation — a view he has worked hard to promote since before he was elected to office — the silence in the Republican-dominated Santa Clarita Valley translates into endorsement of tax extensions.

To Smyth’s credit, those community leaders he invited added some diversity and broader perspective to the stacked house.

COC school board member Scott Wilk, a likely candidate for one of the Assembly districts currently being redrawn, and a few others, joined the fray and had their say. But this event was really about the governor trying to influence the gang of 200 to influence one Republican assemblyman: Smyth.

Important stakeholders from cities, counties and community colleges simply didn’t fit into Brown’s chosen cast of characters. They weren’t likely to join in the choreographed chorus.

The entire experience was like being flashed at a bus stop: From the back, it looks great; from the front, it was ugly.
Conflicted on the event? For the most part.

Conflicted on the solution? No.

You have heard this from us before. California’s budget answer need not be a black-or-white, severe-cuts-or-higher-taxes choice. The cure for California’s self-inflicted budget crisis can be found in a set of solutions that moves the needle somewhere left or right of the midpoint.

We have said, “The public deserves more than two choices. Make no mistake. There is a door No. 3 that already has specific budget-trimming solutions.” It is called the California Performance Review.

That plan to streamline the state’s mammoth bureaucracy into something more efficient, and less costly, created barely a ripple in the surface of Brown’s staged event here, and clearly hasn’t penetrated the governor’s narrow view of solutions.

The California Performance Review is a report that contains 1,200 recommendations for streamlining hundreds of duplicative, unnecessary and consumer-unfriendly departments, agencies and boards. Fully implemented, the plan would permanently save $32 billion (in 2004 dollars).

The heart still wants more dialogue prior to a bologna-laced election offering only tax extensions or severe cuts. The brain remains wary of disingenuous politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Instincts say we already have a good, objective plan.

Put the California Performance Review back on the table and hold town halls open to everyone, and we will solve this mess. If we leave it to partisan caucus bickering and misdirection, we won’t get anything accomplished.

The people have more than two choices. Let them vote on the full spectrum of choices, not some narrow, black-or-white pseudochoice.


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