Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year’s Resolutions

Flood control needs stronger commitment and the Blueprint won’t work because it ignores the reality that people like suburbs and using their cars for transportation, but there are a few nuggets among the dross.

Editorial: 2008: Challenges and opportunities for region
Lean times will force leaders to be creative
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Up until 2007, the good ship Sacramento appeared to be sailing along smoothly, propelled by a pair of seemingly steady winds – state government spending and real estate appreciation.

Yet it was only a matter of time the winds changed. The subprime storm has now arrived. The regional housing market is sinking, dragging down the budgets of state and local governments. Crime is on the rise in some areas. For the first time since the 1990s, the capital region finds itself pressured to cut costs for social services and community policing at a time when people need those programs most.

The year ahead will test political leaders in a big way. It has been more than a decade since some have confronted such tough choices, and many are complete novices to the pain.

Surely they will be forced to engage in cost cutting. But of what nature?

Will they be judicious, ferreting out programs that are ineffective, and look for ways to enhance revenues where appropriate? Or will they take the easy way out, and make shortsighted decisions that will only add to the region's long-term problems of blighted neighborhoods and boom-and-bust local financing?

Will they also take advantage of opportunities?

In 2006, voters approved more than $40 million in state bond money for transportation, flood control, housing, parks and other amenities. Although Sacramento must compete against Southern California and the Bay Area for many of those funds, this region finds itself in a favorable position compared with the last housing downturn: This time, it can afford to invest in basic infrastructure even as it is forced to pinch pennies in its day-to-day expenditures.

Budgetary hardship will be a big story in 2008, but keep your eye on the wider horizon. During an economic downturn, political leaders have a rare chance to slow down, plan for the future and position their jurisdictions to emerge in a stronger posture when the economy rebounds.