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Looking Ahead to the New Year

Editor’s Note: Mayor Fargo was not successful in her Nov. 4 bid for re-election to a third term.

As 2008 winds down, it’s exciting to think of starting a new year with new possibilities and challenges. Our challenges as a state include budget reform. As I write this, Governor Schwarzenegger is preparing to sign the long-delayed 2008-09 state budget. Many of the state’s fiscal issues remain unresolved, and there is little doubt that significant budget reform is crucial for California’s future.

With the state budget process so convoluted and unpredictable, our city budgets are essentially just placeholders. We are actually preparing our city budgets two or three times annually to adjust to the realities of what the governor and the Legislature finally decide with respect to the budget.

Furthermore, the unintended consequences of the initiative process --- and the fiscal impacts of such measures on governing --- have come home to roost.

The budget process is broken and needs to be fixed now. And other issues besides the two-thirds required vote to approve a state budget must also be addressed. All of these structural issues must be fixed to avoid the long hard slog California just went through again with the state budget. There are certainly better ways to do it, and we need to band together and help make the demand for change in California a reality.

The National Picture

On a brighter note, to prepare for a new president and what we hope will be a stronger domestic agenda, the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this year adopted a plan for strong cities, strong families and a strong America. The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 10-Point Plan states, "85 percent of Americans now live in cities and
metro areas. America’s cities drive our national economy --- the strongest national economy in the world ... and metro economies now account for 85 percent of national employment, 87 percent of labor income and 86 percent of gross domestic product."

The plan includes:

  • Creating an Energy Block Grant, based on the successful model of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program;
  • Fighting crime by reinstituting and funding the Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) hiring program, Local Law Enforcement Block Grant Program and other related programs;
  • Doubling the funding for CDBGs;
  • Supporting the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund and programs that provide affordable housing for families in our cities;
  • Rebuilding and modernizing America’s infrastructure, including transportation, water, wastewater, brownfields, telecommunications, schools and affordable housing;
  • Building a competitive work force to strengthen our economy;
  • Fighting the national high-school drop-out crisis by funding programs that protect children and at-risk youth;
  • Appropriately funding Homeland Security to meet the real needs of our nation’s first responders, a responsibility facing all California and U.S. cities;
  • Making travel and tourism a national policy priority to build on economic growth in tourism and expand funding of the arts to grow the economies of American cities; and
  • Protecting cities, through new legislation, from unfunded federal mandates.
  • To read the full Mayors’ 10-Point Plan, visit www.usmayors.org/pressreleases/documents/10-PointPlan_1107.pdf.

Strength in Numbers

Granted, these are federal issues, and California cities have their hands full at the state Capitol every day protecting local revenues, battling unfunded state mandates and advocating for policy issues of concern to their residents. However, as we have learned, when cities stand together, our collective voice cannot be ignored.

As we prepare to celebrate the new year and a new president, I wish all of you a wonderful end-of-year holiday season with your families and friends and a very happy new year.