Previously published at the Merced Sun-Star.
Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted the nearing end of winter for the rest of the country on Feb. 2, but Groundhog Day cast two particularly dark shadows over Merced.
First, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that our metropolitan area had the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation -- a stunning 20.1 percent, with 21,300 people out of work.
Adding insult to injury, Forbes Magazine named Merced to its annual America's Most Miserable Cities list, citing Merced's unprecedented 64 percent drop in median home prices over the last three years as a major contributing factor to its third-highest rating.
Merced wasn't the only California city granted the dubious honor of being on Forbes' list; in fact, eight of the 20 "most miserable cities" were right here in the Golden State.
While I fundamentally disagree with the assessment -- Merced, despite its challenges, boasts a great community -- maybe we shouldn't be so surprised by our ranking.
Like the character Phil Connor in the 1993 comedy, "Groundhog Day," Merced residents and Californians across the state are reliving a frustrating reality, day in and day out. And the forecast seems to include little relief from the persistent unemployment, sky-high foreclosure rates and falling incomes that have plagued us for months on end.
In a continuing effort to cope with this difficult economy, families and communities are doing everything they can to tighten their belts and stretch every dollar they have.
But instead of seeing their elected representatives in Sacramento make the same kinds of sacrifices, Californians are watching their government waste away their hard-earned money -- over and over again.
Year after year, Sacramento has depended on the same accounting gimmicks and short-term tricks to solve the never-ending budget crisis that has developed as a result.
The people of California have made it very clear that they want Sacramento to live within its means.
And though the budget Gov. Jerry Brown proposed last month does take some important steps toward that goal, it also relies in part on borrowing, transfers and tricky accounting measures that just don't add up and on continuing a high level of taxation on Californians who are already struggling in these difficult economic times -- all the while failing to make the reforms necessary to permanently fix our budget problem.
Voters have spoken loud and clear. They want Sacramento to make tough cuts, make government more efficient and stimulate the economic growth necessary not only to address our current $25 billion shortfall, but also to ensure that we never face this kind of massive deficit again.
They want us to give the private sector the tools they need to create jobs so people can get back to work. And we've been working hard at this task.
My fellow Republican senators and I have had several opportunities to meet with Gov. Brown and to hear his ideas and to provide some of our own.
And while there has been good dialogue, it's clear this won't be an easy process. Making cuts in programs that people rely on isn't easy. Changing the structure of government isn't simple.
But I believe we can find some common ground and take steps to fundamentally solve California's problems.
Only then will California be able to break the recurring cycle of spending and borrowing for which taxpayers are already on the hook. Only then will our economy's winter come to an end.