It was past 3 a.m. when the state Senate's top lawmaker, Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, expressed total frustration at the moment. "Anybody have any great ideas? Let me know."
He appeared to be immediately concerned with getting some of his fellow Democrats to vote for a budget in the middle of the night. But the words also seemed to comment on the terrible fix California is in, and from which there seems to be no way out. We can't balance our budget. We can't pass a budget on time. We can't solve the press problems in schools, health care, prisons, water and other issues, problems we know we need to solve. And our election campaigns offer no new ideas for getting us out of the mess.
The good news is that there are people working on big change. Today in San Francisco, a new enterprise called Rethinkcali.com is launching an effort to rewrite the constituton by Twitter. Churches, unions, and busines leaders are meeting and talking behind the scenes about big reform efforts, perhaps timed to the next big statewide elections in 2012. Where will this lead California? I don't know.
Here's one idea for Sen. Steinberg. Don't even bother with the budget next year. Let the new governor, the legislative Democrats and legislative Republicans submit their own budget proposals to the voters, as has been suggested by the blog Calbuzz. And have the legislature spend the year on constitutional reform and revision. Is such an effort likely to produce broad reform? Not at first. But a focus on reform would, at the very least, produce some new ideas.