Friday, March 18, 2005
IN MY OPINION (Column)
A Parliament Of Fools
By RAY HAYNES
(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County.)
Most people don’t actually know what goes on in the Legislature. In fact, most stories about what actually happens “under the dome” in Sacramento are met with incredulity. No way could that happen, I am told. I must be exaggerating to embarrass the Democrats.
This week saw the beginning of hearings on legislation in Sacramento. Of course, we have been in session for two months, but we are just now actually beginning to consider new ideas for laws from our elected officials. I wish we would be in session for six months before we did anything, because you would be safer that way, but as it is, we only waste two months of your time and money before getting to “the business of the people”.
With that caveat, here is the story of one of those hearings. There were two bills in front of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, one of which happened to be mine. How each bill was handled by the committee is a study of a truly dysfunctional institution.
You and I know we have a broken budget process-a budget with a permanent, structural deficit. One of the reasons the budget is broken is the process by which Legislature addresses the budget. Once a program is funded (by giving it money in a “line item” in the budget), the Legislature never again looks at the program, how it has grown, how much money it is spending, and whether that money is actually accomplishing what the program intended to accomplish. That is because the budget committees only review what is known in the capitol as “budget change proposals” (BCPs).
These BCPs are the bureaucrats requests for changes in programs in the upcoming budget year. These BCPs rarely analyze current or previous year spending, program accomplishments, or how the extra money will help the bureaucracy do a better job.
If anyone in the Legislature or the public try to compare one year’s spending to the next, it is virtually impossible. The one time I asked for the information, the bureaucrats came running to my office to ask me why I wanted it, and ultimately refused to provide it to me, even though it would be helpful in the review of this agency’s budget. The budget chairman backed the agency, basically saying he didn’t want to know the spending history of this agency.
So I put in a bill to have the spending history be a part of the budget process. I first did this in the Davis administration, and the Democrats voted the idea down because they thought it would embarrass Davis. I put the bill in this time to show my intent was good government, not partisan bashing.
It turns out the Democrats don’t even want the information. The committee spent about twenty minutes listening to the bill, and then turned it down without questions or discussion on the merits of the bill.
Contrast that with a bill in front of the same committee on “hair threading.” Hair threading is an Asian practice which has the same effect as waxing. A few years ago, the Legislature said hair threaders don’t need a cosmetology license.
The bureaucrats tried to re-regulate these women business owners by ruling that a cosmetology license was necessary for those threaders who used scissors to cut the one or two eyebrow hairs missed by the threading process. The committee spent an hour debating whether cutting one eyebrow hair is worthy of setting the full power of our criminal justice system against one of California’s hard-working citizens. The committee will pass a bill to protect the threaders.
They spend an hour (and vote favorably) for one eyebrow hair; and give twenty minutes and a negative vote on a proposal to avoid future multi-billion dollar budget deficits. What on earth are these people thinking?
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company