We all know voters are dissatisfied with state government's ability to address our biggest challenges.
A recent field poll showed the California Legislature with a woeful 19 percent approval rating. But it's becoming clear to me that something deeper is going on than bad polling numbers. The trust that voters have in state government has, in a fundamental way, been broken.
It's time to wake up and see this for what it is: a threat to the ability of any party or person to govern California effectively. The loss of trust is no longer just a symptom of Sacramento dysfunction, it is a cause. We can't restore school funding, balance the budget or build for the future if every government action is viewed with such skepticism.
Case in point: The budget enacted by the Legislature relies on voter approval of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan to protect school funding and keep the budget balanced. But the tax measure faces a public that doesn't trust state government. Many others have pointed to this problem, but no one seems to be doing anything about it.
What is needed is an urgent and relentless effort by the Legislature between now and November to repair some of the broken trust.
I'm proposing five things my fellow Democrats, who control the Assembly and the Senate, could do right now to start this process.
1. Increase transparency. Earlier this year, it took a judicial order to compel the Legislature to release its office budgets. It's time for a new approach to transparency. The Legislature should also increase transparency at the state level. This is vital given the scandal about and
2. Set five-year budget goals. The Legislature should publish and actively explain to the public its five-year plan to balance the budget and restore funding levels for education. Even if this involves tough choices, voters would appreciate a sense of where we are going.
3. Commit to pensions. Many legislators have said action on pensions is key to building public support ahead of November's tax vote. Gov. Brown put forward a plan that seemed to have broad support. Unfortunately, after months of delay, the Legislature has lost the chance to put certain reforms on the November ballot that require voter approval. At this point, the Legislature should at least go beyond what is still on the table to show resolve to voters.
4. Pass tougher conflict-of-interest rules. The Legislature should close loopholes allowing legislative staffers and many local government officials to accept outside lobbying and consulting contracts while still in government. Better still, the Legislature should follow other states that have banned fundraising by representatives while the Legislature is in active session. The latter change would show real commitment to winning trust.
5. Show that the Legislature is also feeling the budget crunch. Recent news stories revealed that legislative staffers had received pay raises at a time when services are being slashed. The Legislature should follow the governor's example. He started his administration cutting pay and perks.
At the local government level, where I currently serve, the disconnect between voters and government is not so severe. It's a healthier kind of skepticism that we see. If we can move the relationship between the state and its citizens in this direction, it would do a world of good. We need to start now.
Marc Levine, a member of the San Rafael City Council, is in a two-person runoff with Assemblyman Michael Allen for the 10th Assembly District, which includes part of Sonoma County. The election is Nov. 6.
Allen also blogs for Patch.