California: It Doesn’t Really Matter

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Can we just stop with this farce?

Both candidates running for governor of California, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, have campaign plans to “save” higher education. But it doesn’t matter who wins the election, neither of their plans matter. According to a piece by Josh Keller in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Jerry Brown is an unorthodox, journeyman Democrat who says he will draw on his experience as a two-term governor to turn California around. Meg Whitman is a tightly scripted Republican newcomer who promises to tap her experience running eBay to slash government spending.

But as the race for California governor goes down to the wire, does it really matter for higher education who wins?

Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that Brown governed California as a fiscal conservative 30 years ago and Whitman left eBay when the company lost half its value under her tenure. Their experience is irrelevant here.

It won’t matter who wins. This is not just because the solutions the candidates offer are really vague and unlikely to result in the financial gains they predict; it’s because the financial problems facing the California higher education system are far, far more serious than the governor has any power to address.

This is not just a problem for state colleges and universities; this funding issue is trouble for everything in California that depends on the largess of the state legislature.

Due to the bizarre ease with which the state special interests can pass constitutional amendments in California, not to mention one particular amendment, Proposition 13, that made it very hard to raise taxes (though not at all hard to lower them) California is actually not really governable at all.

The governor of California is essentially a powerless figure who occasionally presents a budget to that state about which members of the opposite political party can complain.

It’s not just Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown. No one’s going to matter until California finds an efficient way to fund higher education, and everything else in the state.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer