If it wasn’t clear to you before that California is facing a severe political crisis, two items should remove any lingering doubt. On Tuesday Brian wrote about the exodus from the legislature – once ranked as the best legislature in the country, it has been destroyed by term limits and the 2/3rds rule.
But the crisis in state government runs much deeper than just the legislature alone. Partly because of the right-wing’s success at breaking the legislature, there’s a growing movement to shrink the size of state government. As more observers recognize that Californians generally have more faith in local government than in state government, they’re starting to argue that we should therefore shift more responsibility for programs to local governments, and weaken the role of the state.
That was one of the prominent topics of discussion at a KQED forum last Friday. As described by John Myers:
But the most intriguing part of the discussion was the almost universal consensus that California needs a much stronger structure of local government and, perhaps correspondingly, a weaker state government.
Dr. Sandra Hernandez, a leader of the nonprofit San Francisco Foundation, said more power needs to be given to locals “where there is more trust” of the public. Hernandez went on to say that too few Californians understand the nexus between the services they want, and what it takes to provide those services in the way of money and resources… a disconnect that can only be solved through local, grassroots education.
“We have a lot of work to do to build that kind of civic knowledge,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by Hertzberg, whose reform group has a proposal to shift some things away from the state capital. “As long as we ensure there’s equitable protections,” he said, “you [should] devolve authority to folks where’s there’s a greater nexus.” Translation: keep more of the needs and actions of government where they can be seen and measured by average folks.
And the ever quotable Hertzberg offered this assessment of the top-down style of government: “Sacramento has become the Politburo.
And of course, this is fueling the “part-time legislature” nonsense, which would further limit the ability of state government to do the things it needs to do.
Leaving more tasks and responsibilities up to local government means people will be left to the mercy of local governments, many of which are controlled by Republicans, without a strong state government to look after them and their interests. There are good reasons to have strong statewide standards for things like education and health care funding – but an ineffective legislature or a smaller state government can’t effectively implement these tasks.
This would be a good time for Democrats to step up and fight against the budget cuts this time – cuts that merely fuel this kind of desire to localize public services, even if it were to produce inequality.