Is there still time to make a New Year’s resolution? Yes, I know that it’s a couple of days past the midnight revelry of the 31st and the general rule is to make great promises to the universe on New Year’s Eve with a glass of champagne (opps! With apologies to the French, that should be “Sparkling Wine”) while, at the same time, singing the indecipherable words to Auld Lang Syne, I can stretch the rules a tiny bit. Upon sober reflection and with a glass of orange juice firmly in my hand, I hereby wish to again renew what has become my annual pledge to lose ten pounds. That’s my personal resolution for the year and I’m sticking to it.
And if I can stretch the rules a bit further (while I have the momentum), I wish, on behalf of the residents of our great state, that in the new few days the California Legislature unanimously passed one resolution and one resolution only. In my imagination, Joint Resolution No. 1, co-authored by all 80 Assembly members and all 40 State Senators, would read as follows: “Resolved, that we, the members of the California Legislature, henceforward pledge to take a year-long sabbatical on the whole time-wasting business of passing hundreds of ‘feel good’ resolutions that have no effect on state public policy and, instead, pledge to concentrate and deliberate, with all our might and law degrees, on crafting a fiscally responsible state budget and good laws that are in the best interests of all Californians.”
Every year, members of the California Legislature pass over 100 resolutions on a whole variety of subjects. The only problem is that each resolution has, unlike a bill signed into law, no effect on public policy whatsoever but somehow manages to consume unrecorded amount of taxpayer dollars and hours of needless debate in the Rules Committee, the relevant policy committees and the floor of both houses at the expense of deliberating on matters where they have the power and responsibility to act. The resolutions don’t even go to the Governor for his signature and no government agency enforces these platitudes on parchment.
Last winter, while the lights were flicking in many areas of the state and business owners were making plans to relocate and take jobs to Nevada and Arizona, the California Legislature kept the lights on in the Capitol (through its own diesel generator) to debate not the weighty issues facing our state but rather issues upon which our Legislature has no jurisdiction. A few examples: that the federal government not change the American with Disabilities Act; not allow for private Social Security Accounts, and not allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I have a better idea. We should hold our U.S. Representatives and congressional candidates, not our state legislators, accountable for their positions on these important federal issues.
Resolutions passed by state legislatures are roundly ignored by federal officials. It may have to do with that little “supremacy clause” in the U.S. Constitution. I am not aware of a single instance in the past ten years in which a resolution passed by the California Legislature has influenced the President or the U.S. Congress to act one way or the other. There’s probably some young congressional intern whose sole duty, while sitting in a lonely office in the basement of the Longworth Building in Washington D.C. is to neatly file away resolutions passed by state legislatures.
And then here are those mysterious resolutions that are passed, but one wonders whether more than five Californians know about them. Did you know that last year Assembly Concurrent Resolution 16 designated February 27 as “Spay Day USA?” Maybe I’ll ask few veterinarians whether they remember working through lunch last February 27 due to a sudden demand by residents to spay or neuter their dogs or cats. Or how about a resolution that designated May 21-28 as “Mosquito and Vector Control Awareness Week?” Well before this resolution was passed, I was pretty much aware, based on a recent family vacation to a mosquito-infested campground, that mosquitoes have no redeeming social qualities.
The Legislature reconvened only a few days ago and there are many important public policy problems to work on this year. The dominating issue will be how to balance the state budget. Over the last two years, the state has gone from having a $12 billion budget surplus to a $12.6 billion deficit. Now that’s a roller coaster ride. Balancing the budget in the right way – eliminating costly and ineffective programs while keeping programs that genuinely change peoples’ lives for the better – will take courage, intelligence, saying “no” to the special interests, and a commitment to the best interest of all Californians. Politically tough decisions will have to be made. But every hour spent by our legislators in debating platitudes on parchment that will soon be forgotten will mean that our leaders will have spent less time on solving real problems faced by Californians.
Winston Churchill once described an indecisive political rival who could not make tough decisions as being “resolved to be unresolved.” Let us hope as the New Year begins that our Legislature does not earn such an epithet in 2002.
January 2, 2002