In California, power over budgeting and taxation is centralized in the hands of a few elected officials in Sacramento. This has been the case since the 1970s when court decisions and Prop 13 robbed local governments of much of their power to make those sorts of decisions.
Unfortunately, centralization created huge risks for the state. If the Capitol doesn't work -- which is to say, if elected officials there can't figure out a way to compromise -- all of California suffers. It'd be less risky for all of us if budget and tax power was reduced at the state level and expanded at the local level. Yes, local officials who made bad decisions could do damage, but that damage would be limited to their local community.
Such restoration of local control is politically hard. The powers that be in Sacramento are not inclined to give up the control that centralization has brought them. Which is why the recent comments of Darrell Steinberg, the top Democrat in the state Senate, are so important. He argues that the only way to protect programs -- particularly in social services -- is to take them out of the fiscal mess in Sacramento and restore budget and revenue decisions over these programs to local governments.
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Steinberg told the Sacramento Bee:
"If anybody thinks that we can triage our way through another chapter of the state budget, I wholeheartedly disagree. The argument will be made that restructuring, realignment is too complicated. But compared to what? I don't see a pathway that doesn't involve significant restructuring of what the state should do, and what other entities of government should do."
Translation: Such programs are sure to be losers in Sacramento's budget wars. So as hard as it is, let's change the power structure and take responsibility away from the state.