Fixing California

FIXING CALIFORNIA….California is a mess. The LA Times ran a pretty sensible editorial on Sunday suggesting some needed changes, but unfortunately it didn’t pander enough to dreamland sensibility for Matt Welch’s taste. What’s up with that, Matt?

The Times made six suggestions, four of which Matt derides as wildly out of touch with the California electorate. Here is Matt’s paraphrase, with commentary on each one from yours truly:

  1. Repeal term limits.

    Along with gerrymandered districts (#2 on the Times list), term limits have been one of the prime contributors to legislative extremism and gridlock in California. Legislators don’t understand the process, never learn to compromise, and don’t care much about any of it because they can only serve a few terms anyway. Result: a legislature full of zealots who are entirely at the mercy of lobbyists and staff members.

    Repealing term limits ? or, better yet, keeping them but extending them ? is a good idea. This is an experiment that’s failed utterly.

  1. Amend Proposition 13 to allow for more taxation.

    The Times thinks Prop 13 should be amended to change the rules for taxing corporate property, not residential property, and this makes all sorts of sense. Prop 13 allows property to be re-assessed only when it’s sold, but corporate property is virtually never sold ? and selling the company that owns the property doesn’t count as selling the property itself. Result: corporate property is increasingly taxed at a fraction of one percent of its actual value, while residential property is taxed at close to the full 1%. Why should residents pay higher rates than corporations?

  1. Make it harder to exercise direct-democracy instruments such as recalls and ballot initiatives.

    The initiative process in California hasn’t been a grass roots process for a long time. Most of the time, it’s simply the handmaiden of corporate interests who have the money to buy the signatures they need and the money to advertise heavily for whatever special treatment they’re angling for.

    This is hardly a secret, and it’s one of the reasons I almost never vote in favor of ballot initiatives. My favored solution, rather than simply increasing the number of signatures required, would be to prohibit paid signature gatherers, thus forcing ballot initiatives to be genuine grass roots efforts. (Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that would pass constitutional muster.)

  1. Reduce the two-thirds voting requirement that prevents Democrats from unilaterally raising taxes.

    Supermajorities should be used only for extraordinary activities. The two-thirds requirement Matt is talking about here is for the most ordinary activity you can think of: passing an annual budget.

    Virtually the only way to get a budget passed in California these days is to simply buy off everyone in the legislature, which leads to ballooning budgets (that is, even more ballooning budgets than we’d have anyway) and endless giveaways. Hell, this year’s budget, the one that those fiscally responsible Republicans refused to pass if it contained even one cent of tax increases, finally got passed only by giving those same Republicans $100 million of extra spending they wanted. Thanks, guys.

    If Californians really don’t like the budgets the Democrats pass, they can vote them out of office. That’s democracy.

The Times isn’t running for office, and kudos to them for acting like grownups and telling the truth about what needs to be done in California, even if Californians don’t want to hear it. Matt, you should have kept your LA Times cynicism in check this time.

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