Expanding government won’t fix the California crackup

Last month, Joe Mathews and Mark Paul of the New America Foundation came to Sacramento to promote their new book, “California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It.” Few if any in the audience at the UC Center Sacramento took issue with the “crackup” part.

“California doesn’t work because it can’t work,” said Paul. He outlined majority rule, a consensus-based system, and the initiative system as three governments essentially at war, making for statewide dysfunction. Mathews explained that California never had a proper founding but needs one now because “it’s time to grow up.” No one else, he said, “has in initiative process the Legislature can’t change.” As in the text, Proposition 13 was a big part of the problem.

On the fix side, Paul made a case for smaller districts, more legislators, and elimination of the “whips and chains of budget bondage.” It is time to “clean out the closet” and implement “democratic budgeting.” Mathews argued for making the initiative process less attractive and making it “impossible to circumvent the Legislature.” His co-author conceded that “Californians don’t trust the Legislature.” “California Crackup” gives plenty of reasons for that mistrust.

The book is an entertaining primer on key campaigns and players in California government. Legislators may find merit in some of the recommendations but all readers have reason to doubt whether they will fix a cracked-up state, with a budget deficit in the range of $20 billion, an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent — likely much higher — and the credit rating of an unemployed carnival worker. “California Crackup” assumes we can fix things simply by remodeling the architecture of government.

This ignores the role of ideas, and other realities. Suppose we had better representation, even an assembly member for every Californian. If those legislators voted to spend more money than the state brings in, that would hardly amount to a fix.

In his list of warring “governments,” Paul neglected to include government of, by, and for public employee unions. In this arrangement, which currently dominates California, public employee unions can elect those with whom they negotiate salaries, benefits and pensions.

The authors lament “the billions in borrowing that will hurt future generations” and “the billions more in retiree pensions and health benefits that there’s no money to pay for,” but they keep some issues off the table. They are unwilling even to ask whether California should maintain collective bargaining for state employees, which dates only from the 1970s.

Is it a good idea to maintain a top income tax rate of 10.55 percent, third-highest in the country? Californians who earn $47,055 are hardly “the rich” but the state shakes them down for 9.55 percent of their income, in addition to what they pay the federal government. Would it help the state economy to give those workers some relief?

Mathews and Paul are right that California is enduring a crackup, but more legislators, more districts, and a more restrictive initiative system won’t fix what ails the Golden State. We need smaller government, spending reductions, fewer regulations and a tax system that promotes enterprise and entrepreneurship. Without those reforms, the crackup will continue.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director at the Pacific Research Institute.

CaliforniaCalifornia NewsK. Lloyd BillingsleyOp EdsOpinion

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

City officials closed San Francisco County Jail No. 4 on the top floor of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in September, reducing the number of beds in the jail system by about 400. 
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner
SF jail closure prompts doctor to call for release of more inmates

Reduced space increases risk of COVID-19 spreading among those in custody

Cyclists have flocked to Market Street since private vehicles were largely banned from a long stretch of it in January. (Amanda Peterson/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Plans for sidewalk-level bikeway on Market Street dropped due to costs, increased cyclist volume

Advocates say revisions to Better Market Street fail to meet safety goals of project

Prop. 21 would allow San Francisco city officials to expand rent control to cover thousands more units. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tenant advocates take another try at expanding rent control with Prop. 21

Measure would allow city to impose new protections on properties 15 years or older

Singer-songwriter Cam is finding musicmaking to be healing during 2020’s world health crisis. 
Courtesy 
Dennis Leupold
Cam challenges country music tropes

Bay Area-bred songwriter releases ‘The Otherside’

Anti-eviction demonstrators rally outside San Francisco Superior Court. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Report: Unpaid rent due to COVID-19 could be up to $32.7M per month

A new city report that attempts to quantify how much rent has… Continue reading

Most Read