A blueprint for California

 California is at the brink. It’s not just the $14 billion state deficit. It’s municipal and county governments similarly stressed, some near bankruptcy, but continuing to grant outsized pay and benefits increases. In some communities public sector safety employees are earning as much as $200k with overtime and then retiring with pensions of 90% of their last years earnings. The prison guards union, one of the largest contributors to the Democratic party, fights against reform of the massively expensive Department of Corrections. The Republicans in Sacramento refuse to look at even the most basic fixes to the States revenue crisis like closing the outrageous yacht tax loophole.  Political candidates are spending up to $1m in legislative races and are beholden to contributors funding their campaigns. To say it is dysfunctional only begins to describe such a system.

The political divide in Sacramento seems unbridgable. There’s virtually no center ground. Nearly all of the Republicans in the legislature have taken the Grover Norquist ‘no new tax’ pledge. The party’s right wing has driven any remaining centrists out of office. The major Republican contributors: developers and big property owners, often under the guise of the Chamber of Commerce, have funded the purge. As long as they  maintain the 2/3 vote budget approval requirement and keep a Republican in the Governorship, they can maintain their grip. Meanwhile, the Democratic side of the aisle while more diverse and somewhat more centrist in approach, has its own special interest contributors with agendas. The party is eyeing 2010 as the year it will establish a 2/3 legislative majority and an ability to override any veto. Moreover, the Democratic majority will control the redistricting of California. The goal is to pick up 5 Congressional seats and a permanent 2/3 majority in the legislature. The Republican veto will be history. Even Democrats have to ask if such an imbalance is healthy.

California’s golden period was 1958 – 1966. Pat Brown, a centrist Governor, along with a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the legislature worked out compromises during a generally harmonious period of government. The State constructed an extensive highway system and infrastructure. The BART was launched. The University system was the envy of the nation. California was a leader in its efforts to protect the environment and the states natural beauty. The legislature took its first steps towards establishment of the Coastal Commission. All of these undertakings required broad based consensus.

The ideological cleavage began In the late sixties, in California as in the rest of the nation. In reaction to high taxes, and a court ordered redistribution of property tax revenues, a tax revolt took root. In 1978, Proposition 13 passed overwhelmingly. In subsequent years, prosperity and rising revenues from the internet boom and the real estate bubble allowed a papering over of a deepening political split, but in 2008, in a period of declining revenues, California lacks any consensus as to how to proceed. The State faces a crisis. 

(to be continued)



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