California still has high unemployment, high taxes, underfunded schools -- and little prospect for changing any of these. So it may be hard to believe that Sacramento, in this holiday season, is the happiest place in the state.
Talk to anyone in Sacramento these days, and you'll hear all kinds of optimism about the state. Why? The broad answer is that the state government, from a Sacramento perspective, seems to be doing better, and Sacramento is a government town.
To understand why Sacramento feels this way about its broken state government, here are three reasons why Sacramento is so happy -- and why the rest of us shouldn't be nearly as happy.
3. Term limits
The Sacramento upside: California may be a fast-changing, dynamic place, but Sacramento values nothing so much as predictability and stability. The new term limits rules -- approved by voters this past June -- provide more of that. New legislators will be able to stay in one house of the legislature for their entire, 12-year careers. That means fewer contested elections and switches between the houses and local governments -- and more time for Sacramento's powerbrokers to get to know lawmakers. And that time will make it easier to control those lawmakers.
The downside for the rest of us: The term limits in place make things easier for the powerful, but they still restrict the careers of lawmakers -- and the choice of voters. Indeed, lawmakers, in the era before term limits, only really came into their own after a decade or so in office. These days, such lawmakers will be leaving just when they know enough to get big things done. We shouldn't like this, even if Sacramento does.
2. Jerry Brown, shoo-in for re-election
The Sacramento upside: Sacramento is convinced that Gov. Brown, with the passage of Prop 30, is a shoo-in for re-election in 2014. That means more predictability -- since the powers that be won't have to worry about another governor until 2018.
The downside for the rest of us: Brown has had a narrowly focused agenda that has consisted of locking in today's austerity-levels of spending, while raising taxes. He's dismissed the idea of bigger changes -- and the systemic redesign that California's broken governance and budget systems need. Of course, Sacramento likes the ideas of a Gov. Brown keeping big reform off the table.
1. A seemingly balanced budget
The Sacramento upside: the capital community rejoiced after the passage of Prop 30, and projections showing a small deficit in the next budget year, and potential surpluses after that. Sacramento has truly suffered after a decade of cuts, so even a budget that just locks in today's austerity sounds pretty good. At least things won't be going backwards.
The downside for the rest of us: Sacramento seems content to live with the current budget, even though schools, universities and health programs need more resources just to restore what they've lost over the last decade. The happiness in Sacramento should worry us -- since it means the capital is content with the weaker California they've left us.