I don’t yet know enough about Meg Whitman’s politics to decide if she’d make a good governor of California, but there’s no denying she’s one brave gal. Check out the mess she’s willing to try and clean up:
Whitman’s living room – for now her campaign office – is the starting block of what is certain to be one (no, make that two!) of the most dramatic reinvention efforts in a long while. One reinvention is California, which is more critical to the recovery of the U.S. economy than any other state. Twelve percent of Americans live here. Ten percent of Fortune 500 companies have headquarters here. California’s GDP, at $1.8 trillion, makes it the eighth-largest economy in the world. In the past year more people have lost jobs here than in any other state. More homes have gone into foreclosure. More banks have failed. And as Whitman notes, businesses are moving out at an alarming rate, most often citing excessive regulation and intolerable taxes. For top earners, California’s taxes are the highest in the U.S. And to what end? California’s credit rating is the lowest in the nation.
And she’d take a giant-ass pay cut for the thankless task. I’d wish her, or whoever her opponent is, well — except for one little thing: California is too broken to fix. Trying to fix California by sticking someone new, no matter how ballsy, in the governor’s office is like changing the oil in an engine in need of a total rebuild.
California voters run the budget process, thanks to the state’s initiative process. And judging by their current situation, California voters are big stupid idiot dummy heads, for whom the words “basic accounting” and “prioritizing” are even more alien than “coat and tie required.” If you want to fix what’s wrong with California, scrap the state’s constitution and start over.
And if you’ll allow me, a few modest proposals:
1. No provision for an initiative process.
2. No amendments to the new constitution without the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the legislature and three quarters of the county governments, ala the federal constitution.
3. A 25-year-long 5% budget surplus requirement, to inculcate some decent spending habits, and to provide for an emergency reserve in a state with lots of potential for natural disasters.
4. A taxpayer’s bill of rights, modeled on Colorado’s, minus the stupid loopholes we left in.
5. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars will be required to send a case of Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon each year that it’s produced, to a certain Stephen Green of Monument, Colorado.
6. The new Constitution should be short enough to fit on a few sheets of notebook paper.
7. Limit state spending to 5-7% of state GDP. A hundred billion dollars ought to be enough spending for anyone sane.
With 35+ million people, California might be just too big to govern effectively on the state model. I’d advise authors of the new constitution to try a sort of “mini federalism,” treating the counties as the US Constitution used to treat the states — with strong protections against encroachments from Sacramento. Simple laws, laboratories of democracy, a nice cash reserve? It wouldn’t be long before California returns to being the envy of the nation instead of the laughingstock.