“Right now, the state of California is flying upside down,” said Silva in his half-hour discussion at Prevot’s restaurant in Brentwood. “The plane is loaded and going into a mountain and we can’t agree on which way to turn.”
According to Silva, the state’s budget crisis – underscored by a $42 billion deficit projected through June of 2010 – is the handiwork of former governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, who signed onto a plethora of social programs passed by a Democratic-controlled state legislature in the late 1990s when money was plentiful due to the high-tech boom.
When the dot-com industry imploded early in this decade, the state found itself without enough money to pay for all of the programs that had been passed. The recent economic meltdown has significantly exacerbated the problem.
“That’s why my (Republican) colleagues are saying, ‘We are not going for a tax increase; we have to see some cuts in the budget,’” said Silva. “That’s tough, because once a program is in place, people don’t want to give it up.”
There’s a lot of waste in state government, he said, citing an example of needing to add a shelf in his office. He went through government channels and was told, after waiting four weeks, that it would cost $420. Instead, he went to Home Depot and put up the shelf himself at a cost of $17.
Silva faulted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for not following through on his promise when he was elected to “blow up the boxes” of state government.
“We haven’t made any cuts,” said Silva. “We haven’t cut the waste out of our budget. I had a meeting with Gov. Schwarzenegger and brought up the shelf. I said, ‘I met you three years ago and you told me that your number-one priority is to cut the waste in the budget.’ I said, ‘I have been here two years and haven’t seen any cuts at all.’ He wouldn’t make eye contact with me.
“I cannot support raising taxes when we have waste in our budget. I would like to see the state legislature set up priorities in the budget the same way you set up your priorities in your budget at home.”
Silva said the top priorities for funding should be public safety, education, health and transportation. The lowest priorities should be items like the $90 million spent every year “on a train to nowhere,” the $12 million the state gives to small counties to neuter dogs and money spent to train union representatives.
He criticized the recent move by Democratic legislators to attempt to skirt the requirement to get two-thirds approval for tax increases by instead calling them fees. “Your billfold doesn’t know the difference between a tax and a fee,” he said.
Silva said many of the Democrats’ proposed tax hikes may be counterproductive. Raising the sales tax would further hurt the already ailing retail industry. Raising the income tax would result in more of the rich buying apartments in Florida (which does not have an income tax) and declaring them their primary residences. Raising business taxes would result in more businesses fleeing to other states, taking their jobs with them.
Silva could not predict how it will all play out as budget negotiations continue in a highly partisan legislature.
“Democrats want more taxes and Republicans want more cuts,” he said. “In my desk on the floor (of the Assembly) I have a toothbrush and toothpaste, because they could lock us down. We are on call. They can lock the door and we have to stay there. Maybe that’s what it will take. I don’t know.”
At the end of his talk, Silva was presented with a bag of goodies that included a bottle of alcohol. “I might need that,” he said with a smile.