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Scott Wilk: The budget debate that never was

Posted: May 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.


On Saturday mornings my wife, Vanessa, and I sit at the kitchen table to discuss family finances. It’s during these conversations that we decide how we are going to spend what we have earned.


In addition to paying what we owe, we discuss how much to donate to charity, invest in savings and dedicate to the vacation fund.


As a couple, we determine the priorities for our family.


No gimmicks or tricky accounting, just setting priorities based upon our values.


Recently, I joined my fellow Assembly members in casting our first votes on the 2013-2014 state budget.


Like many in my freshman class, I was looking forward to a meaningful discussion on the provisions of the budget. The decisions the Legislature makes about our spending priorities will affect the lives of every Californian in some way or another.


In my view, each and every provision of this year’s budget deserves a thorough debate on the Assembly floor, and we should be allowed to receive input from our constituents.


But instead of discussing and voting on detailed spending proposals, we were asked to cast a vote on 36 blank pieces of paper. The majority party passed 36 so-called "budget spot bills" or measures that had no language included in them whatsoever.


Our colleagues across the aisle said that the measures related to the budget will include specific language at a later date — most likely on or around June 15, when the budget must be approved by law and sent to the governor.


When budget spot bills come back to the Assembly or Senate for final votes, no member of the Legislature can provide feedback or input for any amendments or improvements on these empty budget bills. Lawmakers can only cast a yes or no vote.


It is this type of unaccountable budgeting that set the groundwork for the types of questionable spending practices in years past.


With routine actions like these, no one should be surprised that good government groups like the Sunlight Foundation gave the California Legislature a "D" grade for failing to be sufficiently open to the public.


The U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave California an "F" grade for its lack of transparency in government spending.


This is wrong.


That’s why I have joined with my Republican colleagues to support meaningful legislation that will promote honesty and openness in the budget process.


Important reforms, like Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, will give the public time to review final budget deals and ensure that state government is operating as efficiently as possible.


Also, I co-authored Assembly Bill 70 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 that would require budget bills to be available in print and online to the public for at least three days before any legislative action is taken.


While more must be done to make government more accountable to the taxpayers, I am confident that these measures and others are a step in the right direction.


I want taxpayers to know where their dollars are being spent and, more importantly, I want Californians to become active participants in the shaping of our state’s budget.


Misguided, partisan practices like the passage of the 36 empty budget bills have no place in the California Legislature.


You, the taxpayer, deserve better than to have a budget written behind closed doors with little to no public input.


Poor oversight continues to cost the taxpayers and erode public trust. Making the budget process more transparent will give the public a chance to make their voices heard.


Substantive, bipartisan debate on real budget proposals could greatly strengthen the budget process.


This should be the norm in Sacramento, not the exception to the rule.


Like many hardworking California families, the Legislature needs to budget based on shared values and priorities, not political deal making.


Scott Wilk, a Republican and a Saugus resident, represents the Santa Clarita Valley in the California Assembly.


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