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Posts Tagged ‘dysfunction’



Sacto Dysfunction Mirrors Whacko Views of Voters

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Just six weeks before Jerry Brown rolls out the long-awaited opening of “Krusty: The Sequel,” the most fundamental problem the new governor faces  is neither the $25 billion state deficit nor the utter  dysfunction of the Capitol: it’s California’s dual personality disorder.

As much as politicians, government geeks and bureaucrats — not to mention “the media” –  get blamed, deservedly, for the mess the state is in, there stands a mountain of evidence showing that the polarized partisan gridlock in Sacramento perfectly reflects the sentiments of the electorate.

The plain fact is that California’s litany of problems is underpinned by an everything-for-nothing ethic among voters that is both conflicted and contradictory.

We first took note of the over-arching importance of this dynamic back before the earth cooled (“Calbuzz: The Prairie Years”) when we analyzed the confounding perspective of the electorate in advance of the disastrous May 19, 2009 special election. In that debacle, Governor Schwarzmuscle and the Democrat-dominated Legislature tried to have it both ways with a series of five initiatives that, variously, raised taxes and imposed some cuts in several popular programs.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also call out our fellow voters, who exhibit a maddening syndrome of self-canceling impulses about how to pay for their government.

What do policymakers see when they look at such data? Voters, pointing a gun to their own heads, screaming “Stop, before I shoot!”

This self-destructive, self-canceling world view of voters has grown both more acute and more chronic since then, as illustrated by some new data in  the most recent LA. Times/USC poll.  Among the findings, the survey found that:

–By a huge plurality – 44-6% — voters said they would rather cut spending than raise taxes to address the deficit (another 44% opted from some murky, unspecified combination).

–But by even larger margins, voters said they would either a) not support any cuts or b) favor more spending on K-12 education and health programs – the two largest items in the budget (for schools, 37% oppose reductions and 34% want more spending while 36% are against cuts and 20% want to spend more on health). The only area of the budget where there is strong sentiment for reducing expense is on prisons, where 71% favor cutting a great deal or some of current spending.

–Most troubling of all, by 70-24%, voters said that “there is enough waste and inefficiency in government spending that we can reduce most of the state deficit by cleaning up programs without cutting programs like health care and education” –  the fairy tale scenario that Meg Whitman tried to peddle, ranking up there with Santa showing up with the Great Pumpkin and the Tooth Fairy in tow. That’s how he rolls.

Our friend Joel Fox took a run at the Great Dichotomy the other day over at Fox and Hounds and offered a pretty good succinct synopsis of the problem.

So what to make of the California electorate’s pro-government, no more taxes dichotomy? Can we say that Californians have big hearts and small wallets? Or is something else going on here?

Many people believe in the California Dream. The notion of California as a place of opportunity cuts across demographics and ethnicities and is a thread that binds people in this most diverse of all states. Californians support proposals that will give people access to opportunity. I suspect that is why those polled would support avenues to citizenship and open doors at educational establishments and government programs to give people a hand up.

However, while supporting a basic framework of government support, voters clearly don’t want to pay for too much. Those responding to the survey think they already pay too much when they say the best avenue to a balanced budget is to cut spending.

Voters don’t trust government to deliver the opportunities they believe in… There is a strong sense amongst the electorate that those in government take care of themselves first.

During the campaign, Brown’s big proposal for addressing the budget mess was to lock all the legislators of both parties in a room and browbeat them with sweet reason until everyone agreed on solutions.

As a political matter, that seems to us to be 180 degrees wrong in dealing with the size, scope and depth of the problems the state now faces: Instead of spending his time in backrooms with Sacramento pols, Brown needs to get out of the Capitol and travel energetically around the state, conducting what amounts to a one-man basic civics education campaign, so that Californians truly understand a) what services state government actually provides; b) how much they cost; c) how they’re paid for.

Above all, he needs a full-blown strategy to build a shared public awareness of the simple facts of California’s predicament by breaking through the bumper sticker clichés and well-worn grooves of the political arguments that have straight jacketed California for a generation. Anything else is just tactics.

Con Con Pros: Citizens Should Propose Reforms

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

wunderman2By Jim Wunderman
Special to Calbuzz

California’s state government is broken. This dysfunction has left our state unable to deal with the serious issues of our time.

This hurts our state, it hurts our economy and it hurts Calbuzz readers. California’s dysfunction has made us a laughing stock, but it’s not funny, it’s tragic. Californians are frustrated – they should be – and they want something done.

At least two groups have put together serious, well-recognized efforts at reform: California Forward and Repair California. Backed by an original $15 million investment, California Forward has gathered some of the top leaders in our state, plus experts who know the system from the inside.  They came up with a high-priority list of reforms and whittled them down with a “politics of the possible” filter.  California Forward has produced a reform package with many items Repair California, and my organization, the Bay Area Council, might support.

Some have asked if California Forward succeeds, does California still need a constitutional convention?  The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

con_conThe source of our woes are deep, including:  an out of control budget process; the broken balance of power between the state and local governments; our election process; our initiative process; term limits; too many overlapping jurisdictions; a lack of sun setting or review on new government units; too much centralized power; unfunded mandates; and poorly constructed executive and legislative branches.

These problems require a big fix, as soon as possible.

The way to do that is with a constitutional convention to examine our governance system in total, and propose a holistic, systemic fix. State constitutional conventions have been successfully called more than 230 times in the United States. It is time to call one in California.

Repair California has turned in ballot language to call the first California convention in more than 130 years.  The measures would call a limited convention to reform four areas of the constitution:

– The budget process;

– The election and initiative process;

– Restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and,

– Creating new systems to improve government effectiveness.

Who will be in the room?  That is the critical question and the makeup of this convention is why this effort will succeed where other California reform efforts have failed.

Today, due to deep cynicism, “who” is proposing the reform matters as much as the reform itself.  Voters have made clear they no longer trust “experts” or politicians, they only trust themselves. Due to the drawing of everyday Californians as part of the delegation, this convention will be a celebration of our democracy and our state’s incredible diversity.  John Adams said of gatherings like conventions that they “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.  It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”  The convention proposed for the November 2010 ballot will produce just such a group.

How do everyday citizens make good decisions on reform?  Repair California believes you need established experts there as well.  Therefore, a smaller additional group of delegate seats will be divided by population among California’s counties. In each county, a committee of five local government leaders will review applications at public meetings and pick their county’s expert delegates.

This innovative approach mixes the values of everyday Californians with experts chosen by the elected leaders closest to the people.  It also ensures that the convention’s reforms are vetted by a pool of people just like the voters who will eventually decide on the product of the convention.  The “proposers” will be the people.

The United States of America was founded on a unique vision of self-government that became an inspiration to the world.  The founders and the framers believed, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government… I am not among those who fear the people.”  Over a half century later, President Abraham Lincoln renewed the spirit of 1776 when he declared that America was a place “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Today, California democracy is a bizarre shadow of the founders’ original vision.  Sacramento has been gathering cobwebs for some time, undermined by special interests, raw partisanship, and citizen disenchantment.  In order to once again become a living expression of the founders’ inspiration, California desperately needs a democratic renewal.

While perfect is not possible in any endeavor, this innovative convention was shaped by the state’s best thinkers and thousands of other Californians to reflect the political, geographic and cultural diversity of this huge state.  It is geared to succeed at the ballot.  California needs fundamental change, and no other reform proposal offers this good of a deal.  Not even close.  It is time to let the people speak.  Call the convention.

Jim Wunderman is the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council and a member of Repair California at www.repaircalifornia.com.