Reforming California

One of the first things I want to talk about is my home state, California. California has a lot of problems and most people that live in the rest of the United States only see the blooper reel that Fox News likes to show. This is quite a departure from how California actually functions, yes stupid things happen, but they aren’t the only thing going on. If you only watch Fox News or listen to alt media, California is basically a cartoonish state on par with Italy. A place where big fake personalities pass idiotic legislation that only benefits some inane political ideology. California’s legislature does pass moronic policy from time to time, but it’s not due to ideology, this happens due to one of two reasons (usually). The first reason is that some lobbyist group want some legislation to pass and they push it through the legislature. This happens in every state so this shouldn’t be news.

The second reason is that some noisy crop of activists push a legislator or two to pass some sort of legislation that they want for ideological reasons. California’s calcified and unrepresentative political structure lends itself for noisy activists to push the legislature into doing something. The reason for this is California’s legislature has 120 seats in it for a population of 40 million people. Even with the noisy activist types being concentrated into a few cities, they can pressure a relatively large percentage of the legislature since they tend to be concentrated in the most urbanized areas. Coupled with the relatively small size of the legislature, every legislator is trying to leave a legacy or run for higher office. Meaning they have to have a political career to get there, and the activists understand that they can put pressure on politicians that are generally outside of their realms of influence. This means that rural and even suburban voters basically get ignored in the legislative process because what goes on in activist circles can get pressed through so long as it doesn’t conflict with one of the big industries. Those industries being tech, agriculture, utility companies, and the refineries. These 4 industries basically get whatever they want.

So what can be done to fix the problem with the legislature? The easiest way is to make it larger. A 600 seat State Assembly coming from 100 electoral districts would be the best solution. 100 districts would lead to electoral districts with approximately 400,000 people in them. Having each district elect 6 people would cut down the strangle hold the Democrats and Republicans have on the legislature. The reason being that no electoral district can legally be 100% one party. Based on how things work overseas, people will break their votes up between parties over time. Not to mention this set up would make it easier for someone to go from being a teacher or a retail worker to get elected. Right now, the districts are so large that it is almost impossible for an average resident to get elected. Single member districts will end with one of two parties getting elected no matter who runs. This happens in other states where fairly unqualified people get elected just because they are semi popular and ran under the dominant party’s banner. One person running against 30 other people will have to compete for air time and try to be more distinguished than just being the owner of a popular restaurant. The transition time would be a bit violent, politically. Every local politician would run for one of the 520 Assembly seats which wouldn’t fix the problem, but would upset the current order enough to allow things to shift after 2–3 election cycles. Not to mention the State Assembly should have 4 year terms and a European style cabinet. A European style cabinet would be where the state level officers would be members of the Assembly while also being the Secretary of State and so on. This would concentrate power slightly, but it would concentrate the offices that career politicians want to run for into on institution. Even if we extend their time in the Assembly from 12 years to 16, they would have a limited time to get elected, make a name for themselves and become Secretary of whatever or the Prime Minister before they are termed out. The point being that more competition would weed some of the worst ones out or concentrate the worst ones into a very obvious place. As to what to do with the State Senate, I will save that for it’s own post.

The next thing that needs to change are how local government and the higher education system is structured. The biggest thing that would need to be change is the special purpose districts that dot California. A special purpose district is basically a city that performs one public function. School districts are the best known example. But, any public service can be performed by these agencies. These are a problem because you need all the pomp and circumstance of a city and they don’t necessarily share resources. For example, I live under at least 5 different special purpose districts. I live in a mosquito district, a fire district, a school district, a community college district, and a rail district. This is wasteful since we have to pay more to maintain these agencies. Not to mention that most people will forget they exist and when a problem arises will go to the city or the county with their problems and the city and county doesn’t oversee these agencies. To fix this, the various local agencies should be consolidated into three levels of government, municipalities, counties and regions.

The regions would be a new addition in a sense. Currently California has various multi county districts and agencies. The regions would just be them consolidate into one entity, kind of like a county but with specified functions. Those functions being higher education, inter-county transit within the region, and air resource agencies. Counties, like the regions should have a few specified functions. These being a local transit agency, sheriff’s department, county hospital agency, foster care and public health. Municipal boundaries should be extended to cover the zip codes that are considered that city or to the boundaries of that towns school district. Now as to what the municipalities would be doing, I would leave that up to the people within each county to figure out which level of government will handle each function of government that isn’t constitutionally mandated or set up by a state statute. This should be allowed to happen because some locales will want to have one service be more local and other counties not. One of the good things about special purpose districts is that they allow for some customization of local service, and there is no reason to not allow this to happen under this system.

The final thing that needs to change is the repeal and replacement of Prop 13 and the Gann Limit and replacement with a Land Value Tax system. Now the concept of a Land Value Tax deserves it’s own post and that is on the way. The reasons why Prop 13 it need to be done away with because it is unfair and act as a disincentive to develop. Under Prop 13, any new construction is added to your assessed value and is taxed. This is normal, but if you are an investor and the company you run has been around for decades, the real value of your property has more or less been capped since you bought it. Meaning if you do any major construction, you will be facing a much higher tax bill the following year. This means that you need to be able to get a good rate of return to counteract the self inflicted tax hike. Under a land value tax, your tax bill would more or less stay the same no matter if you owned a vacant lot or put your place of work and home on it. The protective aspect of Prop 13 also needs to be replaced. The easiest way to protect families while doing away with the distortion to the economy would be to limit LVT payments on owner occupied homes based on income instead of when you bought your home. This way, if you retire or move, your maximum tax bill will change with your income. This would also protect small farms because they would be subjected to the same limitation as a suburban home owner. The Gann Limit needs to be done away with for one reason, a government spending or debt limit shouldn’t need to be settled by a court case. The recent gas tax hike nearly went to the State Supreme Court to determine if it would go over the Gann Limit. The Gann Limit is basically an arcane formula that is used to cap state spending. And it’s not calculated as easily as multiplying last year’s GDP by 15%.

This was a long introduction and list of ways California could fix itself in the long run. At least two of these ideas will get a much longer post at some point in the future; those being the land value tax and reforming the state senate. I hope you found this interesting and at least intellectually stimulating. Change can be a good thing, at least if it is better than keep the same broken system around.