Steven E.F. Brown
December 8, 2011
San Francisco Business Times

Common sense so uncommon in Sacramento it takes an executive order

California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order calling for “common sense” in the state’s budgeting process.

How’s that again? Is common sense so uncommon in Sacramento that it requires an executive order?

Will an order be issued soon telling our legislators to come inside when it rains? To wear their seat belts? To take their vitamins? To look both ways before crossing the street?

Brown’s press office said Thursday that the governor issued the order “directing the California Department of Finance to incorporate common sense program-evaluation methods into the budgeting process, in order to fund programs based on their necessity and effectiveness.”

Sounds good to me. Our tax dollars should pay for necessary and effective programs.

But what’s been the policy up until now? Some kind of “uncommon sense”?

Having read the text of the item (Executive Order B-13-11, for those who are interested), I can say that common sense didn’t really go into writing it.

It starts out pretty clearly, with “WHEREAS substantial steps have been taken to reduce California’s fiscal deficit, but additional measures are necessary both to cut state spending and improve operational efficiency…”

Could be clearer, though. “We’ve been cutting costs like crazy here, but we still need to cut more, and everybody needs to work harder.”

And there’s some common sense in the middle of the order: “WHEREAS California needs a better approach to its budgeting…” Amen to that. Don’t most of us need a better approach?

But then, down in the meat of the order, when you leave WHEREAS (which ain’t a common sense word) for HEREBY (also rather uncommon), things get a little murky:

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Director of Finance shall create a plan for modifying the budget process to increase efficiency and focus on accomplishing program goals. The plan should be developed in collaboration with agency secretaries and department directors and submitted to the Governor’s Office within 90 days of this Order.”

And murkier still — here’s what is required:

“A strategy to incorporate program-evaluation methods into the budget process for selected activities and programs. These methods include zero-based budgeting, performance measures, strategic planning, audits, cost-benefit analyses, and program reviews.”

The order also calls for an “implementation timeline” and a “process for collaborating with the Legislature.” I don’t know about you, but when I have a “common sense” conversation it doesn’t use that sort of language. (My hard-hearted managing editor’s “implementation timeline” is much more efficient — it’s the word “now.”)

To tell you the truth, Governor Brown didn’t even sign the order, which would be the common sense way to do it. Rather he “hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 7th day of December, 2011.”

When we’ve hereby reached the point whereas we need an order to use common sense, we’re in trouble.

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