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Ross Baseball Budget Plan: Now More Than Ever

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

At first glance, the Legislature’s scheduled votes on competing Democrat and Republican budget plans in both houses Tuesday looks like just one more skirmish in the endless partisan war over state finances. In fact, it could be the crucial first step in forging a long-term solution to the annual budget melt-down. When Calbuzz –- issue-driven, solution-oriented! — heard about the head-to-head budget votes, it reminded us that exactly this framework was the key to a reform of the process first proposed here 15 months ago by our pal Richie Ross. As nothing’s changed at the Capitol, the notion looks better than ever, so we’re re-offering the piece with our Seal of Approval. Anyone have a better idea?

By Richie Ross
Special to Calbuzz

I didn’t appreciate baseball arbitration until I experienced it.

In his Indian Gaming Compacts, Governor Schwarzenegger added a “baseball arbitration” dispute process to use whenever an Indian Tribe and a local government couldn’t resolve differences in negotiating an “Intergovernmental Service Agreement” to mitigate the impacts a casino could have on local government services.

In the case of the Buena Vista Rancheria and Amador County, the sides were so far apart in 2006 that the County Supervisors put an advisory measure on the ballot and 80% of the voters opposed the Tribe’s casino no matter what they offered to local government.

The “negotiations” went on for 3 years until the Tribe triggered the arbitration provision in the Compact. Baseball arbitration.

Unlike most arbitrations, in which a neutral finder of fact weighs the two sides, looks for middle ground, then crafts a solution to impose on the parties, baseball’s version is an all-or-nothing proposition. The arbitrator looks at the final position of each side and chooses one. Each side only knows its own final position, not the other. One side’s position is chosen in its entirety. The other is rejected.

The results in the Buena Vista Rancheria-Amador County dispute were fascinating — after all, I get paid to fight with people. Even though I believed the Tribe was right and the County was wrong, I found myself looking for ways to help the Tribe moderate its position to enhance its appeal to the arbitrator (and avoid a final position that could end up losing everything).

Reacting as wisely as she could based on best guesses about what the county’s final position might look like, Tribal Chairwoman Rhonda Morningstar Pope knew that winning in baseball arbitration meant giving up some strongly felt positions in order to achieve a successful deal from a County Board of Supervisors that didn’t want a deal at all.

In the end, the Tribe guessed right. Their final position never had to be arbitrated at all. The County accepted it. No one won. No one lost. Both sides moderated their positions and behavior.

So here’s how the idea would work step-by-step:

1. Institute a two-year budget process. The idea’s been around for a long time. It’s used in a number of other states. Seems to work fine.

2. Start the fiscal year on December 1. There’s nothing magical about the current July 1 start. The Feds start in October. A lot of businesses start in January. So let’s move the state’s to December 1 of the even-numbered years.

3. Make Republicans and Democrats write a complete budget. Right now, Republicans hang on to the 2/3rds majority requirement because they say it’s the only way they can be relevant. But they never have to write a complete budget plan, they just potshot the Democrats’ plan. That’s an accountability-free zone. And Democrats tell their groups how they wish they could raise the taxes to save programs but the Republicans won’t let them.

4. Put both budgets on the general election ballot — baseball arbitration style. Neither needs a majority. The one with the most votes wins.

Voters and the “winners” will live with the outcome for two years. If we like the budget we had, we’ll reward them with re-election and another budget. If they sold us on a turkey, we’ll punish them at the polls and probably give the other side’s budget a chance.

Prediction: Republican politicians will have to moderate their political position and pledges because they might win their “all-cuts” budget battle and risk getting wiped out at the polls when they stand for re-election. And Democrats will finally have to face the fact that voters may not want to cut but sure as heck won’t want to raise every tax that every interest group asks for.

I think both parties would find themselves modifying their positions on budgets because a political “victory” in one-year might mean election losses the next.

Consequences will moderate behavior. Voters will have to live with their decisions. And so will both parties. A budget process with consequences. Consequences of rejection now if you are extreme, or rejection later if you get what you want now. That just might work. It’s worth a try.

Richie Ross has nearly 40 years experience, in and out of government, as a political strategist and campaign consultant.

Debate Watcher’s Guide to Babs and Hurricane Carly

Monday, August 30th, 2010

As the U.S. Senate candidates prepare to debate Wednesday evening, Republican Carly Fiorina and Democrat Barbara Boxer face two, very different challenges:

Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, wants to make the case that Boxer is a left-wing extremist who should be tossed out of Congress and that she would make a solid replacement for her rival.

First elected in 1992, Boxer has to demonstrate that she has been, and can continue to be, effective in the Senate. It’s an added bonus if she can portray Fiorina as a right-wing whack job.

Look for Fiorina to move aggressively to steer the conversation to jobs, portray the economic stimulus bill as a prime example of excessive government spending and mock Boxer’s record of achievement (or lack thereof) in the Senate.

Watch for Boxer to argue that the stimulus saved many thousands of jobs in California, and to try to focus on a woman’s right to choose, climate change, offshore oil drilling and Fiorina’s record of achievement (or lack thereof) at Hewlett-Packard.

Throw down a shot every time Fiorina mentions Boxer’s 28 years in office and another when Boxer mentions HP and “You’ll be pretty toasted at the end of that game,” says Julie Soderlund, Fiorina’s spokeswoman.

Boxer is a big supporter of President Barack Obama and the stimulus. So Fiorina will home in on the sense that the president’s policies have failed to restore economic security. But every time Fiorina mentions the economy, she will open herself up to attacks about laying off thousands of HP employees, shipping jobs abroad and mismanaging the company, from which she was fired.

Both will have much to say about extending the Bush tax cuts: Fiorina likes them and Boxer argues they benefit only the rich. Both have strong views on immigration: Fiorina accuses Boxer of favoring amnesty and being soft on illegals; Boxer can’t understand why Fiorina is opposed to a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

Listen for how many times either candidate refers to “green jobs,” policy proposals that posit California can combine economic growth with environmental protection by building up wind, solar and battery industries to cushion the shock of tough regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Note how many times the two reference agriculture and – heaven help us – “family farming.” Is one of them for getting water to the Central Valley and the other opposed? Would one of them drain the Delta in order to flood parched farmland?

The issue of abortion rights is perhaps the brightest line difference between the two.

Boxer knows that Fiorina’s anti-abortion stance differs from mainstream views of most California voters, including the independents who tilt the balance in statewide elections. She also knows, however, that Fiorina has a personal narrative to explain her position – she and her husband, Frank, were unable to have children, while his mother recalls that she was urged to abort him for health reasons – so Boxer must handle it carefully.

While voters may hope the candidates will keep the debate focused on issues, some personal, snarky moments are all but guaranteed – the targets are just too tempting.

Will Fiorina refer to Boxer as “ma’am,” to remind viewers of her notorious confrontation over titles with a top general at a committee hearing? Will Boxer, as one of her advisers suggested, mention Fiorina’s yacht trips with her grandchildren? Will either offer a reminder of Fiorina’s dis of Boxer’s way-yesterday hairdo early in the campaign?

How about term limits, Barbara? Carly’s for them and has even pledged to serve only 12 years in the Senate. Is this just a cheap rhetorical trick or are you planning to lead a nationwide drive to get approval for a constitutional amendment, Carly?

Carly, are you for tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas, like you did at HP? Barbara, do you want to raise business taxes to make it even harder for companies to hire workers when California’s unemployment rate is pushing 13 percent?

As they prepare for the debate, both sides are talking up how skilled the other is at public speaking and argument, part of the raise-expectations game.

But there are some expectations that viewers can rightfully bring to the debate-watching experience. Boxer, who often stands on a box to look taller, has to maintain the dignity and decorum of a United States senator, even if she takes shots at her challenger. Fiorina has to look and sound like a United States senator and not Suze Orman on steroids.

Viewers might want to put a couple of columns on a piece of paper: Junk Yard Dog and Dignified Public Servant. Every time either candidate sounds like one of these, mark her name in the appropriate column. Total them up at the end.

The results will have absolutely nothing to do with who actually wins the election.

This article, without clever Calbuzz art, appeared originally in the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, 8/29/10.