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September 14, 2002
By Bill Orton
The 'First Day in Office' series
(ORANGE COUNTY, CA.) -- With the "ugliest budget in 10 years" now signed into law, state Assembly candidate William R. "Bill" Orton (D-Seal Beach) is calling for a sweeping series of changes in the manner by which lawmakers concoct the state's annual spending plan.
"Boom-and-bust budgeting is no way to run the state," said Orton, who is proposing the creation of a top-level panel of business leaders, government officials and public members to draft changes acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.
An impossible task, most would argue, but Orton thinks a solution is possible.
"The core ingredients for meaningful budget reform would be to stop soaking the rich and to find a more reasonable vote threshhold for passing the budget," said Orton.
A disproportionately large part of the state general fund, says Orton, is derived from capital gains taxes and from income taxes on the upper two percent of Californians.
Republican lawmakers continually hammered away at this point in the recent 62 day impasse over the state budget, but never made any meaningful offer as to how to solve the overall budget problems.
Changes of the sort Orton is suggesting would dramatically reduce income for the state and would require a substantial tradeoff in order to pull in Democratic support in the legislature.
Lowering the vote threshhold -- currently at two-thirds -- to a more realistic figure would be a logical compromise. California is one of only three states in the nation to have a two-thirds vote requirement for the legislature to passa budget.
Orton suggests a 60% threshhold for budget passage, a change that would require approval by the voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.
"The only way we're going to see fundamental reform of the budget process," concluded Orton, "is for a member of the majority party to drag enough Democrats and coax enough Republicans into the middle. That's something that I am capable of doing."
Orton says that he would buy time and galvanize public attention on the issue by seeking passage of a bill to establish a blue ribbon budget panel. Not only would the panel conceive a blueprint for reform of the overall process, but the time needed to pass the bill and draft the report would allow Orton to line up votes behind what would be one of the biggest battles in state politics.
"The budget panel bill would give me time to build relationships and whittle away at the members needed to send a bipartisan budget reform amendment to the voters," said Orton, who has spent seven years working as an Assembly aide.
The budget panel proposal is drawn from a September 7th list of the "first ten bills" that Orton says he would introduce when lawmakers are sworn into office in December.
Other proposals on Orton's list include upgrading the region's sewers and storm drains, creating a conservancy for the Santa Ana River watershed, protecting religious freedom and giving full-time Chamber of Commerce staff access to the buying power of the PERS pension system.
Orton concedes that there's a little glitch before he can hand in his ten bills in three months.
Orton faces an uphill battle in his own race for Assembly, as his district is called a safe Republican seat.
But the Seal Beach Democrat says his opponent -- incumbent Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) -- is ill-suited to finding a long-term solution to the budget mess in Sacramento.
"The gentleman from Huntington Beach couldn't even save the Bolsa Chica wetlands," said Orton, referring to a deal dangled in front of the Surf City Republican. Orton called Harman's handling of the proposal "amateur budget politics by a freshman member of the minority party."
The 67th district may be considered a safe Republican seat, but Orton hopes voters will decide that he is the better candidate.
For more information on Bill Orton's campaign, visit his website at http://billyorton.com or call (562) 598-9630.