Opinion Columns & Blogs

Devin Nunes: Averting state's ruin

Today, we Californians confront an economic implosion that can only be averted by bold action.

For more than 150 years, California's natural beauty, diverse geography and extensive resources have attracted entrepreneurs from around the world.

As a result, our state is a global leader in many areas, including agriculture production, scientific research, and technology.

Despite these achievements, California is suffering an exodus of entrepreneurs and investment capital. This exodus signals far more than a recession sparked by national economic conditions.

For both the present and future generations of Californians, it's imperative we properly understand and promptly solve this crisis.

Presently, Californians are burdened by their state government's overspending, oppressive regulation and high taxes. These excesses have clogged the arteries of commerce.

Just as a fallen tree can divert the flow of water in a creek, bad economic policies divert the flow of investment away from our state economy. Entrepreneurs and investors, seeking the path of least resistance, leave California when it becomes easier to make a living and provide for their families in more business-friendly states.

Consequently, when we diagnose the extent of our state's clogged commercial arteries, it is useful to examine why states like Idaho, Utah and Wyoming still have unemployment rates around 5 percent at a time when California is suffering an unemployment rate of 9 percent and rising. Why have so many businesses left California to other states?

California imposes one of the highest tax rates in the United States, and is among the most regulated business environments in the world.

This unsustainable, reckless fiscal policy of driving out private capital while increasing public expenditures has placed California on the verge of financial meltdown: specifically, a looming $40 billion deficit out of a $131 billion budget.

Though state government careens along this dangerous fiscal course, it can be stopped by bold public action.

As we confront today's fiscal crisis and the need for fundamental reforms, we must start by allowing Californians to elect leaders whose primary interest is public service. Thus, the first act of the people must be the establishment of a part-time, nonpartisan citizen legislature -- a model which has proven effective in states like Texas (part-time) and Nebraska (part-time and nonpartisan).

The second fundamental reform must be a limitation of our citizen legislature's power to tax and spend our money.

This reform, a taxpayers' bill of rights, would include:

Two-year budgeting. In year one, legislative hearings and oversight would allow time to prioritize spending. In year two, based on the priorities established in year one, the budget would be written.

End budget stalemates. If free of tax increases, the governor's budget should become law when the Legislature has failed to pass its own budget by the constitutional deadline. This reform would end the continual government shutdowns resulting from partisan gridlock.

New spending controls. To prevent overspending, we need mandatory spending limits on the growth of government. State spending should not grow faster than inflation; and a 3 percent budget reserve must be established to prevent unanticipated expenditures, such as natural disasters, from creating a deficit.

Budget surplus tax refunds. Mandatory tax rebate checks should be issued to all taxpayers when surpluses exceed the rate of inflation. Had this reform been law in 2001, that year's $10 billion budget surplus would have yielded each taxpayer a rebate of $714.

These are big reforms, but the clogged arteries of California commerce can and must be cleansed of the obstructions that have created this financial and economic crisis.

Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, represents the 21st Congressional District.