California Must Change the Way it Does Business

The art of compromise has been all but permanently removed from the lexicon of California's political practices.
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Does California need a Constitutional Convention? That's the fundamental question posed by the Bay Area Council, along with its partners, at last week's Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento.

Judging by the capacity crowd, representing myriad organizations and interests, the answer would be an overwhelming yes.

Three questions tell us all we need to know about the efficiency of California state government. Is it accountable? Does it have effective political representation? Is it fiscally responsible?

Who is prepared to argue that California can answer "yes" to even one of the aforementioned queries? Given that anyone would be hard-pressed to offer that California is at 33 percent on the most fundamental expectations of government would strongly suggest the Golden State is well past the point for a Constitutional Convention.

As the Bay Area Council points out, "many of the state's problems are the result of the outdated system and rules for governance enshrined in our current constitution."

The evidence is overwhelming. The absurdity of requiring a two-thirds majority for a budget agreement or to raise revenues almost single-handedly makes it impossible to govern effectively.

The art of compromise has been all but permanently removed from the lexicon of California's political practices. This alone renders the state accountable only to its own wayward modus operandi.

Has term limits proved to be the solution offering effective representation? However one feels about limiting the terms of its elected officials, any public policy originally designed to remove a single individual from office will invariably be fraught with unintended consequences that in no way serve the state's overall best interest.

Though not a popular subject, it's not in the state's best interest to allow Proposition 13, in it's current form, to exist in perpetuity.

Over the past two-plus decades, California voters, through the initiative process, have contributed to the state's lack of fiscal responsibility by adding billions to the General Fund, myopically approving bond measures, locking up resources without any consideration beyond the immediate issue.

These factors have contributed greatly to the state's prison overcrowding, the decline in public education, crumbling infrastructure, balance budgets with accounting gimmicks, and a polarized Legislature.

Given the dysfunctional way the state has operated, it comes as little surprise that in a recent poll only 11 percent believe the state is headed in the right direction.

The same poll also reveals 37 percent approve of the job performance of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that's nearly 20 points higher than the Legislature that has a mere 19 percent approving the way they're handling their job.

It doesn't require much to realize the state needs change. Those who attended the Constitutional Conference by driving east on Interstate 80 could literally feel the effects from years of the state's infrastructure neglect.

California depends in part on a knowledge-based economy. But instead of investing in education to meet that growing demand, the state has cut funds from public as well as higher education.

The latest slate of special-election ballot measures that the governor and members of the Legislature say will stabilize the state's finances should not be viewed as the shortcut elixir that cures what is ailing the state.

The fundamental question posed by the Bay Area Council hardly qualifies for debate. I would be astonished to hear any argument advocating for California to maintain its present course.

The question is not should there be reform or should there be a Constitutional Convention, the question is what will reform look like and how committed is the electorate to putting everything on the table?

To be a worthy enterprise, a Constitutional Convention comprised of citizen delegates can possess no sacred cows. Too often any discussion of reform will not include our particular issue of choice.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves; the first step is to get a Constitutional Convention on the ballot by 2010. This will require two-thirds vote by the Legislature and sufficient pressure by the citizenry for it to come into fruition.

A Constitutional Convention would definitely be delving into the unknown, but given the state's present course, how far off the cliff does California need to fall before there is agreement for change?

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