Californians Want Change After Budget Impasse California's unprecedented fiscal meltdown has a growing number of people looking for new options. Fixing the dysfunction is the goal of new bipartisan groups looking at possible solutions, including a major overhaul of the state's often-amended constitution.
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Californians Want Change After Budget Impasse

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Californians Want Change After Budget Impasse

Californians Want Change After Budget Impasse

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Here in California, the governor and legislative leaders finally have a tentative budget deal. If lawmakers approve, the plan will use massive spending cuts to erase the state's $26 billion deficit. Californians are weary of these budget stalemates year after year. And as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, there's a push to fundamentally change the way the state does business.

INA JAFFE: Marcella De Veaux is doing what many college professors do this time of year. She's got her laptop open on the dining room table, working on the syllabus for her fall classes in journalism and public relations at California State University at Northridge.

Professor MARCELLA DE VEAUX (Journalism and Public Relation, California State University of Northbridge): Here's one.

JAFFE: She finds an Email from a student, one of many like this. It begins, Professor, I'm freaking out.

Prof. DE VEAUX: I tried to register yesterday, and all the classes that I had planned to take are full.

JAFFE: With less money going to higher education, there are stricter limits on classes now. And without De Veaux's class, the student won't graduate. So, the letter continues…

Prof. DE VEAUX: What do I do? My dad is paying for my tuition and is going to be so angry if I don't graduate in a year and a half. I've cost him enough money already. Like I said, I'm freaking out.

JAFFE: De Veaux has gotten fed up with the way California allocates its money.

Prof. DE VEAUX: Most decisions are made on these propositions. Propositions that are written in a way that's very difficult to understand. And I think residents of California, including myself, have voted yes. But in retrospect, I don't know that we actually could figure out how we were going to pay for all of this.

JAFFE: So what does she think needs to be done?

Prof. DE VEAUX: Wipe the slate clean, move everybody out who's had a chance. And let's start all over again.

JAFFE: Increasingly, Californians are thinking about making fundamental, wholesale changes in state government. And last week, a couple hundred of them gathered in an auditorium in Santa Monica to talk about it.

Mr. JIM WUNDERMAN (Repair California): Congratulations for being here on Friday night. That indicates your passion and interest in what's happening here in the state or maybe it says something else about you, but (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: Jim Wunderman is with an organization called Repair California. They're campaigning for a constitutional convention to totally redesign state government.

Mr. WUNDERMAN: At first a lot of people scoffed at the idea, but no - you know, five budget delays later — $26 billion deficit later that nobody has a rational answer for — people aren't laughing anymore.

JAFFE: Writer John Gabree stayed through the entire three-hour meeting.

Mr. JOHN GABREE (Writer): I just got an 'IOU' for a tax refund, so that kind of hit home in a way that, you know, it hasn't previously.

JAFFE: Something drastic needs to be done, he says. The question is, what?

Mr. GABREE: And will it happen? I mean, I can see us not dealing with this and just having it get worse and worse.

JAFFE: And he's not sure that a constitutional convention is the way to go. First, voters would have to authorize it by passing a couple of ballot measures next year. Then, the convention would meet the year after that. Then, the voters could adopt the changes — or not — the year after that. Bob Hertzberg, head of another government reform group called California Forward, thinks the state doesn't have the luxury of time.

Mr. BOB HERTZBERG (Head, California Forward): We're running directly smack into the wall.

JAFFE: So, why wait, says Hertzberg, for the package of reform measures on the ballot next year, addressing things like California's super strict term limits and the requirement that the budget be passed by a two-thirds vote, and maybe something to put restrictions on the initiative process.

Mr. HERTZBERG: So I just think time is of the essence with respect to California. And this gets us to the table quicker.

JAFFE: Voters have generally rejected government reform measures in the past. But after many failed attempts, an initiative that stripped lawmakers of the power to draw their own districts did pass last November. That might be a fluke. But some fed-up Californians are hoping it's a trend.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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