Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public Comment Period Concludes for the Conference Committee

No Conference Committee has ever devoted time to receiving public comment. This year, we took an historic step to open up the process and devoted some 30 hours of hearings to public comment about the governor’s May Revise budget proposals.

Many people – not professional lobbyists – made the trip to Sacramento to voice their concerns. Approximately 2,000 people provided written or verbal comments. Many others came just to witness the hearings. I was gratified by the diversity of people who took the initiative to get involved.

Some pundits called the public comment period a parade of pleas for mercy or a trail of tears. It is true that many individuals got emotional while testifying. But it is hard not to, considering some of the proposals the governor put on the table. Some individuals were jolted by the governor’s proposals to eliminate safety nets. These proposals impact the ability of millions – children, the disabled, seniors, and the poor – to survive. Other individuals were crushed with the prospect that their dreams of attending college were at risk because of the governor’s proposal to phase out CalGrants. Same goes for the dreams of those attending junior colleges who rely on Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) that are facing cuts under the governor’s proposal.

This budget is about the people of California and the kind of state they want to call home. Public testimony humanized the budget process. It showed the impact of abstract cuts on the lives of Californians. Public comment also gave the public ownership in the budget process ahead. We received constructive input and ideas that will help us move forward with the difficult decisions that lay ahead.