A Secret Plan for California Competitiveness

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The issue of California's competitiveness is a complicated one, and so modesty is called for in proposals to make it work better.

Here's mine.

Now, let me start by bowing to reality. The California governing system is broken -- so making big changes in how we compete is nearly impossible, despite a number of good ideas that have been offered in this area.

No one wants to fix it. And it puts us at a disadvantage in taking action to capitalize on California's strengths. So what to do?

That's right -- export our dysfunction elsewhere.

Convince other states to adopt California-style governance systems. Inflexible ballot initiatives. Budget systems full of rules to protect certain spending programs and limit taxes. Uncompetitive elections for representatives who must speak for too many voters.

The good news is that there's already plenty of interest in following California's bad lead on governance. Washington state is considering a ballot initiative to require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. Conservatives in Minnesota want the same thing.

So let's capitalize on this by sending California's leading initiative sponsors -- the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the California Teachers Assn., various rich people and interests -- on a tour of America. Let them talk up the glories of what they've done. Heck, the state government, even though it's low on cash, should fund the tour. It would be worth it.

You shouldn't have any trouble getting them to go and defend their work outside of California. They already do it in California all the time.

Let anti-tax conservatives tell people about how wonderful it is to constrict terrible state legislators with limits on revenue. Let spending lobbies talk about the vital protection offered by formulas and mandates.

And let our rich, would-be reformers explain how no constitution is ever long enough -- it can be good to add thosuands of words to it.

Governor Brown, a fan of constitutional amendments, should go along, to emphasize that unwinding any of this is a waste of time, and to tell people not to worry about complexity, since with experienced leadership, anything can be governed.

If these folks succeed, other states would become as dysfunctional as California. And our natural advantages -- in our people, in our weather, in innovation -- would count for more.

Sure, it's not a panacea.

But it's a modest start.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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