Is it make or break time for state’s ability to govern?

Our View
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Can California be governed? Whether Tuesday’s resounding defeat of budget reform measures was a new beginning or the beginning of the end, many are asking this question. And depending on the answer, the impacts will be felt in Auburn and Placer County. As legislators convene committee meetings and public hearings on ways to bridge the $21 billion-plus budget hole, the greater question is whether any combination of layoffs, wage reductions, program and service cuts, collapsed departments or – gasp – additional taxes and fees, will provide a cure or just treat the symptoms. The Bay Area Council thinks the current form of state government is doomed. The business-backed public policy organization has launched a drive to hold a state constitutional convention to rewrite governance for the Golden State. Dysfunctional in purpose and practice, state government cannot be changed on the edges, the group claims, but must be reformed at its core. If approved by voters and enforced by the courts, considering a legal challenge is highly likely, the convention would enlist a group of delegates – many of them common state residents. The council hopes to call a convention in 2010. Delegates would propose constitutional changes that would need voter approval. Reforms likely would focus on four areas: governance, including the structure of the state Legislature; elections, including the referendum and initiative process; the budget and its two-thirds approval process, and revenue distribution to the state, counties, cities and other local forms of government. If that sounds like a herculean task, you’re right, says Jim Wunderman. “We do not make this move lightly,” says Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “Enough is enough. The severity of our problems and the unlikelihood that existing Sacramento structures can provide a solution mean now is the time for decisive action.” Placer County voters echoed that sentiment Tuesday when they hammered five propositions that would have shaved $6 billion off the budget shortfall. A sixth measure to cap pay for state elected officials in deficit years was favored by more than 85 percent of county voters. Not exactly a ringing en-dorsement of state leadership. While reform advocates might differ on which changes would yield the greatest return, we suggest they start with these top priorities: Redistricting: The Redistricting Commission established by Proposition 11 last fall must be relentless in building competitive districts that produce idea-driven legislators, not the idealogues that rule both parties and prevent constructive debate on key issues. Budget approval: If redistricting produces problem-solving legislators, then eliminate the two-thirds majority rule to pass a state budget. No matter your politics, the minority party should not have veto muscle in setting spending priorities. Initiative process: With its newfound pragmatism, a representative Legislature won’t need voter-driven initiatives to decide issues, such as how much money goes to schools, appropriate criminal sentencing guidelines or whether to build a bullet train. Make it tougher to get issues on the ballot. Voters will rejoice, knowing they don’t have to decide a dozen or more measures. Such fundamental change won’t be easy. Power-hungry elected officials and lobbyists won’t go quietly. Unions and marketing strategists will lose clout. The status quo is still safer than the streamlined government that change promises. Something’s gotta give. We’ve seen incremental reforms only make the state more difficult to govern. If now isn’t the time for radical reform, then when? --------------------------------- HOW WOULD YOU FIX CALIFORNIA? Should California state government be sanded at the edges or rebuilt on a few foundation? What’s working? What’s not? Share your thoughts by writing a letter to the editor or commenting at the end of this editorial online at