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Five Steps State Legislature Needs to Take to Rebuild Trust

The trust that voters have in state government has been broken. Here are five steps to begin regaining that trust.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Marc Levine August 16, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Your support means a great deal, Tina. Thank you for sharing it with others in the community.
Marc Levine August 16, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Thank you!
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 August 17, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Marc, You have my utmost respect as you are up against the three B's: Big Business, Big Money and Big Bullies. There aren't many people that will stand up or run against that. I applaud you. Question: Friends and neighbors are asking when they put their Levine signs up again. I thiink it is the day after Labor Day? Please advise Go Levine Go!
Kevin Moore August 17, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Hi Marc, I really like your ideas. Let me add an item that needs to be addressed first. Campaign Finance Reform The current system is ridiculous. There were allegations of a bribe a few years back. If money is accepted at the Capitol building, it is a bribe. But it was accepted "off site", so it was legal. In my view a bribe is a bribe. Otherwise we would have blind trust accounts and candidates would not be told who made deposits or for how much. This is the digital age. There is no reason each candidate cannot put up their message an links to their campaign on a government run website. The cost for that is not huge and it exists now. a. Campaign contributions should be restricted to contributions by individual citizens. The Constitution reads "We The People". Time to make political campaigns from "The People". No more PAC money, no union money, no group money. Money from one individual to a candidate, all tracked by an oversight system. b. Limits on campaign contributions should be low enough the average citizen can afford the maximum contribution. I would set it around $1000. No one, including candidates, can go over the maximum. Meg Whitman was the extreme example spending over $100 million dollars. The real need is in smaller campaigns where average citizens run against millionaires with money to spend. Want a big campaign, you had better be popular! People get one vote. The contribution system should reflect it.
Marc Levine August 17, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Day after Labor Day sounds just right. Thanks!
M. Calwald August 17, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Good comments and questions Kevin as Allen is trying to buy this election. As an average Joe, I would like to contribute to Levine's campaign. Marc, where can I send a donation at the beginning of September?
Marc Levine August 17, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Thanks for asking. Donations can be made online at www.levineforassembly.com. Click the Donate button on the top right corner. They can also be mailed to Levine for Assembly 2012 PO Box 150084, San Rafael CA 94915.
Bob Silvestri August 18, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Marc, I applaud you for pointing out some undeniable truths but I think there are more fundamental reasons why the public can no longer trust politicians or our democratic process. We cannot trust them because: 1 - Our elected representatives no longer represent us. The process of getting elected now requires such a complete abandonment of one’s principles, in order to get financial backing and the required endorsements of powerful people and special interest groups, that it is virtually impossible to reach high public office without being completely compromised. There will never be any real transparency so long as elected officials are bought and paid for to get elected. I'm sorry but it’s naïve to think otherwise. 2 – Our elected representatives have lost sight of their purpose. Elected officials have taken on a false sense of entitlement. Most of them now think that once elected they are no longer required to consult with those they govern. They see being elected as some kind of mandate to do as they please. But that’s not what “representative government” means. The “culture” in Sacramento, like the culture on Wall Street, has become completely dysfunctional because deception, corruption and cronyism rule the day. (continued)
Bob Silvestri August 18, 2012 at 04:13 PM
3 - Government has become incapable of spending our money wisely or cost effectively. Taxes are levied for one reason only to have the money spent to pay for budget shortfalls somewhere else. Then politicians propose yet another tax or “fee” for the same purpose we’re already paying for. We pay a gas tax and bridge tolls to pay for “transportation improvements” but MTC illegally spends $180 million to buy an office building and increases there budget by tens of millions, then says we need another tax on driver mileage to pay for “transportation improvements.” We already pay taxes to maintain our parks but because the money isn’t going there, we’re asked to pay yet another park tax. The same happens with the money we pay the state for our schools. Tens of millions are spend on worthless "studies" that are only designed to benefit the moneyed interests that back them. State budgets are treated like estimates instead of constraints and the government workforce has no concept of cost efficiency even at the County level. And no one can be fired no matter how incompetent. (continued)
Bob Silvestri August 18, 2012 at 04:15 PM
4 – Government has become incapable of policing itself. How can a group of elected officials whose entire enterprise is built on cronyism and indebtedness to financial supporters ever be expected to pass conflict of interest rules that have any teeth? Even at the County level supervisors see no “conflict” with having private slush funds of taxpayer money that they use to support their personal agenda, while critical public health services go wanting for funding. You're asking the fox to police the hen house. Again, I applaud your standing up on these issues. It's a good start. But politics is neither logical nor fair. It’s a bare knuckles game and making the kinds of changes we really need will require a much tougher approach and being unafraid to make some enemies along the way. Thanks for all you do.
Kevin Moore August 18, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Bob, when are you and Dick Spotswood going to run for Supervisor and help fix this county, who are just kicking problems down the road. Marc scores bonus points for voting against a certain very vocal campaign contributor's desires.
Marc Levine August 19, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Bob and Kevin -- Thank you for your commentary and contributing to the discussion.
Tina McMillan August 19, 2012 at 04:39 PM
AB 1389 (Allen) 2011 Your opponents time in office provides an opportunity to see where his focus lies. Going through legislation from 2011 I found this bill. Allen makes it more difficult for police to set up DUI checkpoints and enforce the laws regarding individuals driving without a valid California driver's license. In an attempt to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, Allen risks public safety. Marin needs an assemblyman who will put public safety first. If we hamstring the police by telling them how and where they can do their job we make a mockery of our laws. Laws should apply to everyone. "Support: California Labor Federation; Friends Committee on Legislation of California; American Civil Liberties Union; California Immigrant Policy Center; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Pico California; Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization; Pomona Habla/Speaks Community Speaks; Oakland Community Organizations; Causa Justa; Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network; International Institute of the Bay Area Opposition: California State Sheriffs' Association; California Police Chiefs Association; the California Peace Officers Association; California District Attorneys Association; MADD California; San Bernardino County Sheriff; City of Fresno; Supervisor Dianne Jacob, San Diego County Board of Supervisors"
Tina McMillan August 19, 2012 at 04:53 PM
In 2010 when Allen was first elected to serve in the state assembly he raised $413,421 in campaign contributions. If you look at his major donor they are primarily public employee unions. Having a union rep in Sacramento representing the people is like having a cat that's in charge of the care of all the field mice. Soon the cat will get hungry and low and behold the field mice will be the ones to pay for the cat's natural inclinations. Michael Allen is part of what is wrong in Sacramento. He does not represent Marin. He is only running in Marin because of redistricting. Look at the legislation he has passed and understand his loyalties. How does a life long labor rep begin to revise public pensions. Sooner or later his natural inclinations will cause him to protect the folks that got him elected. Allen, Michael $20,650 California State Council Of Service Employees $15,600 AFSCME California $15,600 Service Employees Local 1021 $15,600 California Teachers Association $15,600
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:40 AM
All of you are either taken in by Levine's affability--he IS a salesman, by trade, but he hasn't worked for at least 8 years--or want to ignore what he wants to hide from the public concerning his campaign donations and his work "history." So let us begin a walk down memory lane. 1) Levine is your typical corporate tool. He takes donations from corporations and does their bidding. 3 instances demonstrate this: first is his vote on Target, where in exchange for yes vote he received $1000 in contributions from the landowner where Target will build and her husband. Second is his $350+ from Comcast, where he did their bidding and refused to push them to give money they legally owe to local media. And three, coming right up, his yes vote in favor of the San Rafael Airport, where, for $1000, he will approve their application to place on their property an privately run athletic facility.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:43 AM
His latest taking of the rope in order to hang himself--whoops, there's a later transgression: the warning he got from the state political practices commission, where he was given a break from withholding for the last 3 years the sources of his income, which come from his wife. Next up is his $5000 fine for doing so.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:56 AM
His latest step, searching for votes: attending the opening of the Marin Republican party office. Some, like the supposed columnist Spotswood, have no problems with a Dem seeking votes from the Repub party. So Levine, who claims to be a Dem, can seek votes from the Tea Party, the Ayn Rand fantasists, and others, in the hopes of gaining a seat in the Assembly where he will be banished to offices in the basement and shunned by all reps in Sacto because of his comments. Not a smart move.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Levine campaigned for Assembly from a table set up by the City of San Rafael at the San Rafael Thursday Night Farmer's Market. That table is for the specific purpose of city council officeholders to discuss city issues. Campaigning for Assembly from that table is a misappropriation of city funds for private use, which is a felony here in California.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Late last year Levine announced to several people, including a city council candidate from Novato, that he was "too busy running for Assembly to be concerned with the city of San Rafael."
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Levine proudly announces on his web site that he "created the first requirement in California conditioning[sic] land use with meeting the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for clean energy." This is a feckless “requirement” because all energy providers in California already have an RPS and had one at the time.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 04:59 AM
) In an interview where Levine was vying for an endorsement, Levine declared that "I personally helped 15,000 people with my vote on Target." Levine truly believes that the 15,000 people who live in the Canal area of San Rafael, who are mostly Latino, benefited from his vote and his vote alone, even though he was one of 3. This means that Levine intends that Latinos leave their community where there are already two local food markets, in order to go two miles to Target for food.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Levine also stated that Target will provide a pharmacy n the Canal. Not true. Target will be located further form the Canal than Montecito, the nearest pharmacy.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:01 AM
All of the Marin County Supervisors endorsed Michael Allen.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Levine wants to institute a living wage ordinance as a way of helping Latinos get a higher wage from Target. But that is impossible—living wage ordinances can only be imposed upon for-profit or non-profit entities which have a contract with the city, and Target won’t have a contract. His declaration clearly demonstrates he does not know what a living wage ordinance is.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Here's another example of his lack of ethics: Levine telephoned the client of a local political consulting firm in order to get the client to demand that the political consulting firm not do a political mailer against Levine. Read that again, for clarity. Worse, Levine threatened the client, a major public health organization, by saying he would make them look bad if they did not fire the political consulting firm.
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:06 AM
And a last example of Levine's ethics: several of those who endorsed Levine rescinded their endorsement after learning of these breaches of ethics. Moreover, Levine named some people as endorsers who in fact had NOT endorsed him. Worse, Levine lied to one of those persons and said he was sure that the endorser had indeed endorsed him. The endorser had to be firm and say "No, Marc, you are wrong."
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Right after the meeting where he voted for Target, he went around city chambers to those who opposed Target and asked "Will you still love me in the morning?" That’s code for “How do you like being fucked over?”
Paul Andersen August 26, 2012 at 05:07 AM
So, to those who like Levine: How do you like being fucked over?
Kevin Moore August 27, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Paul, We have an open election, get over the Democrat vs Republican spin. It is two democrats running to represent everyone in Marin. Are you implying non-democrats be shunned? That is what is wrong with this country. Michael Allen moved to San Rafael to run in the district. Spin that. You talk as if a few hundred dollars will buy a politiican. Michael Allen has raised $585,000. About 1000 time the Target money. I have no problem with career politicians. Doctors, police, firemen, most people have careers. What i dont like is the campaign contribution system. We elect them and big business funds their political survival. The conflict is clear. After looking at the platform, i look at the contributor list, then vote.
John Fuller September 01, 2012 at 04:54 AM
I think Levine is a duplicitous huckster. Be afraid. be very afraid.

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