Saturday, October 10, 2009

Maybe California's chief justice just forgot what he's supposed to do

Everybody has had the pleasure of dealing with government employees who don't seem to remember that they work for us, the citizens. But it's rare to get that attitude from a guy at the top. Today's subject, of course, is Saturday's remarks by Ronald George, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, who was harshly critical of the state's initiative process in a speech in Massachusetts, according to the New York Times. Speaking to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, an independent public policy think tank founded in 1780 by the leaders of the revolution against England, George said California's initiative process had "rendered our state government dysfunctional." Well, it certainly takes one to know one. This guy works for the government -- if the system functions badly, he's probably one of the main reasons because he's one of the most powerful officials. George was especially critical of California's two-thirds vote requirement to pass a state budget, a deadline that the legislature has missed repeatedly in recent years. No wonder. If the state doesn't have a budget, George and his colleagues might not get paid. And they do get paid, nearly $200,000 each per year. But who can even imagine how much nerve it takes to publicly denounce the very laws you're sworn to enforce. George said the two-thirds requirement was perhaps the "most consequential" impact of the referendum process because it limited "how elected officials may raise and spend revenue." But it's not difficult to understand why: the citizens don't trust their elected and non-elected officials. “California’s lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds-vote requirement — imposed at the ballot box — for raising taxes,” George said. But these restraints are of officialdom's own making. If state officials could be trusted to take care of business without screwing up -- in 2009, the budget was passed so late that California had to issue IOUs -- the voters would not have to resort to the initiative procedure to get things done. A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to comment on the chief justice’s speech, the Times said.

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