State Assembly Member Jeff Gorell has been asking for ideas on how to help the reduce the burden of regulations and to help balance the budget.
I took his challenge and posted a status update on my Facebook Blog page linking to my blog post announcing his upcoming cardtable event.
On my Facebook page for my blog a group of us posted ideas for the state budget with the caveat that they must be solutions that could attract bipartisan support. State Assembly Member Jeff Gorell posted that he would review our ideas and this is his response:
Thank you for posting my solicitation for public input on the state budget. There were some thoughtful responses and below are my initial responses. Please consider posting this.
I consulted legislative staff, caucus policy advisers, committee policy consultants, and other subject matter experts. It's a pretty steep learning curve here.
Some of the most detailed responses to the post came from "Conejo Joe". One very central theme of Joe's post is that with greater transparency we should be able to identify more waste and inefficiency in government. I agree so strongly with that goal that it is one of the key reasons for the very first bill I introduced, AB27. This bill, "The Priority-Based Budgeting Act of 2011" will change the way state agencies ask the legislature for money, requiring that their budget requests be prioritized and justified so that legislators can more easily fit our state government's nearly unlimited collection of "wants" into the reality of an austerity budget.
In Joe's post he also stated that he wants to see detailed justification for all agency budgets exceeding 90% of the prior year's allocation. This is another area that I have addressed in AB27, with the difference being that I set the cutoff point at 80% of the prior year's budget in my proposed legislation. (My legislation to date can be found here: http://arc.asm.ca.gov/member/37/?p=myLeg)
Joe was also looking for further information about the benefits that state employees receive. The Department of Personnel Administration's website (http://www.dpa.ca.gov) does have a breakdown of the benefits packages available to state workers. Any specific questions beyond the data they provide on the website can be addressed by calling or emailing the department. Specific audit requests can be submitted by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, but these are costly and time consuming, so I will use this tool only when there is clear evidence of (need to conduct such an inquiry.)
I am optimistic about Governor Brown's desire to dig into the state budget with the goal of eliminating redundancies. The governor has already begun this in his own office, and I have offered a bill to clean up one if the biggest redundancies in our state government, which is the three-agency taxing structure that our officials have been unsuccessfully trying to consolidate since the 1940s. AB77 will merge the taxing authorities of the Board of Equalization, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Employment Development Department into a single administrative entity, which will save taxpayers time and money. I am meeting with Governor Brown on Tuesday specifically about this bill.
I would like to point out another good resource for anyone researching state contracting. The governor's transparency website at http://www.transparency.ca.gov lists all of the state's contracts, in addition to all state agency and department audits, every statement of economic interest, and all travel and expense report forms.
Brian, you offered some unique ideas as well. Your idea to stop sending out hard copy report cards is very much like current businesses that are realizing cost savings by offering their customers online and emailed bills. However, in a nod to Governor Brown's efforts to realign state authority back to the locals, this is a good decision that should probably be made by the local school boards. Some schools, especially in rural areas and in some poorer urban areas, have no choice but to mail out their report cards because many in the community do not have access to the internet or cannot afford to purchase internet in their homes. This was an issue raised by the some policy staff that I thought had merit.
Your idea of merging the STAR and High School Exit Exam has merit and has raised some interest here, especially if it can be shown that the purpose of the High School Exit Exam can be fulfilled entirely by testing which is already being done. Considering how many school districts have been cutting back on the number of instructional days on their calendars, this could also return a couple of days lost to testing back to classroom instruction. These tests are mandated by the Federal Government, and California could only make the change with a federal waiver. For this reason, I have drafted a formal request to the California Board of Education directing them to explore what it would take to get a federal waiver for these types of mandates. This information will prepare us to apply for such a waiver if this ultimately makes sense to pursue. Brian, I will let you know the response I get from the Board.
Even if we did get a federal waiver that allows schools to consolidate their mandated exams there will be no savings to our State general fund budget due to the Proposition 98 guarantee. However, I would hope that any savings would be directed to classrooms for frontline instructional use.
I appreciate the feedback and ideas. More to follow.
Assemblyman, 37th District
California State Legislature
Sacramento, CA 95814
Capitol Office (916) 319-2037
District Office - (805) 230-9167
Thanks Jeff! I have high expectations that you will be that rare legislator that can bring people together across party lines to move our state forward.
To clarify, I think an opt out program for hard copy report cards would work best. That way families with online access can help save the schools money, but families that need a hard copy will continue to receive them.
I don't want to eliminate any state or federally mandated tests but I would like to merge them to reduce the amount of money and days spent on them. Families and taxpayers deserve accountability from our local schools, but I think it can be done efficiently. Any student that passes their high school English sections of the STAR exam with the highest possible scores shouldn't also be forced to take a basic skills test on the same subject to graduate.