As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Free Advice

So apparently a bunch of foundations are paying Leon Panetta $16 million dollars to come up with new solutions to the political morass in Sacramento.

"The principal dysfunction of Sacramento," Panetta says, "is similar to what's happening in Washington: the inability of the elected leadership to come together and arrive at necessary compromises for solutions to the problems we face."

And how do the politicians get prodded into doing that? "Those who are elected have to be convinced that governing is more important than winning. They have to believe that good government is good politics. If they don't, they'll keep on fighting in trench warfare."

I enjoy pixies and unicorns as well, but "magic bipartisanship" isn't the $16 million dollar answer here. It's actually quite a lot more simple.

• Eliminate the requirements that stalemate government and restrict the elected majority from doing the business of the state, in particular the 2/3 requirement for budgeting and taxes.

• Watch the productivity.

Most Californians are not in the mythical center; this is a fiction used to explain irresponsible government. If the state legislature would be allowed to do their job, suddenly this desperate desire for bipartisanship would melt away, and the party in power would rise or fall on the consequences of their actions. As it stands they're not allowed to have any consequences, and we all suffer.

Panetta and his compatriots offer the same warmed-over stew of redistricting reform (please, do redistrict Santa Monica and downtown LA and San Francisco and Marin County and make them competitive. Have fun with that) and open primaries (yes, because Louisiana is a bipartisan love-fest). Now, that doesn't mean he doesn't have some ideas that would at least have an impact.

Says Panetta: "We're not interested in walking off a cliff -- or simply issuing reports and letting them sit someplace. Our goal is to focus on reforms that we can, in fact, put in place."

But he adds that everything will be considered: Tax restructuring, including Proposition 13. School financing, including Proposition 98 guarantees. The two-thirds vote requirement for budget passage. (Why not at least return to how it was before 1962 when a budget that didn't increase spending by more than 5% could be passed on a majority vote?) Spending limits. (California had one before voters eviscerated it about 20 years ago.) Initiative reforms that would control ballot box budgeting.

Some of these are great, some not so much. But it's so clear that California legislators aren't allowed to do their jobs, and as long as that remains the case, nothing else will get done. And wrapping it up in this language of "bipartisanship" is almost criminally stupid. When you can't get yacht sales tax avoidance stricken by the minority party, when looking at tax breaks is treated like some kind of heresy, when "Budget Nun" Elizabeth Hill finally gives up because her policy prescriptions sit on a shelf, your problem isn't going to be cured by sitting in a circle and gazing longingly at one another. It's going to be solved by having a government that reflects the popular will.

You can mail my $16 million check to the D-Day home office.

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