Committee of the Whole?

This week the California Assembly convened a historic meeting; one that has not happened in 25 years.  Called the “Committee of the Whole,” it is when the entire Assembly comes together to serve as an 80-member budget committee to address this deficit budget cycle.

Committee of the Whole meetings are rare and only occur during a crisis. In 1995, the last time it happened, the Legislature was considering the financial fallout from Orange County’s bankruptcy. This time of course, we are facing a huge budget shortfall caused by the Coronavirus-induced recession. With tax revenues falling and spending for programs like unemployment insurance increasing, our $21 billion surplus of just three months ago is now a projected $54.3 billion deficit.

Our constitution requires passage of a balanced budget by June 15. Normally, there would be months of Budget Committee hearings to go over spending for every state agency and program. Though we had endless zoom and conference calls during the recess, we couldn’t conduct official hearings. Since the new budget projections include massive spending cuts to many vital state programs, the Committee of the Whole was called to quickly get the facts out to all lawmakers, and to allow each Member a chance to make a brief statement.

Obviously, a speedy recovery that generates jobs and more tax revenues would go a long way toward solving our current budget problems. But future budget shortfalls are likely, and the Legislature will need to seriously re-evaluate some of its spending priorities.

My takeaway from all this is simple. We can get through this, but we’ll need to prioritize funding that supports essential services for our communities including public safety, care for the disabled, the sick, the elderly, education. There’s no alternative – we must get our economy back on track.