BAD BREAK-UP: Keep California Together

Lucky for us, we have the largest talent pool ever assembled in one political jurisdiction: 38 million Californians. Let's just get to work.
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"California is ungovernable in its current state." --Tim Draper

We have seen this movie before.

In the late 1980s, venerated political consultant Stu Spencer offered an identical perspective to then-Senator Pete Wilson, in a vain attempt to dissuade him from a run for Governor. What happened next? Wilson ran anyway and won, serving two terms. By the time he turned over the office to his successor in early 1999, a majority of Californians agreed Wilson had the place pretty much under control and he left office with record-high approval ratings.

The subsequent 15 years have been challenging for California state government officials charged with managing a large and complex state, home to one in eight Americans. Many key government functions, from public safety to education, clearly underperform.

But is the next step to take out the carving knife and divide California into six pieces, as venture capitalist Tim Draper has proposed?

The question is probably academic: A majority of both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate would have to approve the break-up of California into six states. This means (besides reconfiguring Old Glory to accommodate more stars) the creation of five net new states, and ten additional U.S. Senators. Assuming California's incumbent U.S. Senators don't feel threatened by this change (and can pick which of the new California states they would represent in Washington), counting the remaining votes in favor of this proposal is straightforward: 98-2 against.

But back to California: What's in it for the average voter?

Unlike venture capitalists, voters don't calculate risk. They seek to minimize it. And splitting the state into six pieces carries obvious and arguably insurmountable political risks.

The nonpartisan and independent Legislative Analyst, in its 16-page analysis of Draper's proposed initiative, writes that California as a whole ranks 12th in per capita personal income among the 50 states. If divided as Draper proposes, the state of "Silicon Valley" would be the highest income state in the nation, and the state of "Central California" would be the lowest -- about $150 below Mississippi.

Jefferson California, a new state to be comprised of counties in the far north, would have not one campus in the University of California system if split off from the rest of the state as proposed. Just how would a family from Redding or Chico feel about paying $36,000 in out-of-state tuition to send their son or daughter to UC Davis?

Think of the thousands of business transactions that take place between Southern and Northern California each day. Many of those would now be between states, triggering federal regulation of interstate commerce.

How many Californians would need to file two, three, or more state income tax returns every year?

And how would the new state of Silicon Valley, which is a net importer of water, guarantee adequate water supplies to its residents and industries?

Draper's initiative is vulnerable to hundreds of political hits.

What problems does Draper say his Six Californias plan will address? Here is his list, from a recent appearance on Bloomberg West:

  1. "We need better government services" delivered by government that is "closer to its constituents."
  2. Our water infrastructure is "antiquated."
  3. California's corrections system has failed to protect public safety.
  4. California's k-12 system is costly and underperforms.
  5. We need someone in California state government who "knows how to respond to things like bitcoin."

Each of the above is a legitimate policy question, but there is no connection between the Six Californias plan and any of these problems. The big problems California faces need to be tackled, simultaneously and with great effort and imagination. (And the entrepreneurs and investors behind virtual currency can duke it out with regulators in Washington, Albany and Sacramento.) In other words, there are forums for resolving these questions. And when one challenge is met, another one will arise. That isn't a flaw in our political system, it's just the way it is.

We don't need another five governors before we can address California's water crisis. We don't need another 130 regents of the University of California before we can embrace new online education technologies. And we don't need another five lieutenant governors to do whatever lieutenant governors do.

Lucky for us, we have the largest talent pool ever assembled in one political jurisdiction: 38 million Californians. Let's just get to work.

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