Redistricting is doomed to failure

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Here are some immutable truths about California. The sun sets gloriously in the West. The Clippers lose more games than they win. And redistricting ballot initiatives fail.

The measure was doomed the moment the California Democratic Party opposed it last weekend. The Democrats will call it partisan, and it will go down in the Obama onslaught. To have any chance at succeeding, a redistricting initiative needs more than bipartisan support. It needs partisan acquiescence. And this measure doesn’t have that.

Read more

Is Arnold Schwarzenegger the most conservative, anti-tax governor in the history of California?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Those who followed the recent California Forward panel, and accompanying LA Times pieces, on how four previous governors — Earl Warren, Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson — resolved budget difficulties might have reached that conclusion. A different author described how each governor had had the courage to raise revenues to support a growing state.

The tax numbers on Reagan, offered by biographer Lou Cannon, are jarring in light of today’s debate. Please tell the Republican kids, if there are any Republican kids anymore. Taxes on corporations went from 5.5 to 9 percent; the tax on banks from 9.5 percent to 13 percent, and the highest rate on personal come tax jumped from 7 percent to 11 percent.

If Reagan rose from the dead and tried that today, Republican lawmakers would shun him, and every anti-tax group in the state would be racing to the attorney general’s office with recall papers.
What about other governors? Deukmejian held the line, sort of. He supported a temporary sales tax increase that was repealed — because of a surging economy — before it ever had to go into effect. Gray Davis cut taxes at first, but then raised the dreaded vehicle license fee, or "car tax."

Read more

My Kingdom for a Legislature

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Whenever I think about California and its problems, my mind fills with questions, unanswered questions about the state’s various messes and how we got into them. The press is dying, but sometimes I think how nice it would be if the state had some entity … you know… a body… a group of folks… maybe elected by and accountable to voters… you know, with subpoena power… the ability to call hearings… ask all kinds of questions — investigate.

You know. If we had a legislature.

Oh, that’s right.

If we had a real legislature.

If we had a real legislature, we might get to the bottom of any number of campaign finance scandals.

If we had a real legislature , we might learn what’s really going behind the scenes at CalPERS and CalSTRS.

And if we had a real legislature, we might figure out what exactly the state did wrong — or didn’t do that it should have done — to prevent some of the worst problems in the mortgage business.

Read more

Do we need an investigation of Prop 66?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Over the last two weeks of October 2004, Gov. Schwarzenegger and billionaire Henry Nicholas led a campiagn to defeat Prop 66, a ballot initiative that would have eased some of the most onerous parts of California’s "three strikes" law. With Schwarzenegger’s campaigning and Nicholas’ money, the "no" campaign made political history, taking an initiative that seemed certain to pass and sending it to a shocking defeat.

The "no" vote grew by nearly 30 points in two weeks. Independent pollsters say they have never seen such dramatic movement in a ballot initiative.

Read more

UTLA Teachers’ Strike is a Truly Horrible Idea

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The leaders  of the United Teachers Los Angeles prides themselves on no-holds-barred organizing for the benefit of teachers. But they’ve gone too far in preparing a one-hour strike for this Friday, June 6.

Such a strike, if it’s not stopped by the courts (it’s an outrage that LAUSD agreed to a union contract that permits this kind of spot walkout), could leave classrooms full of children unattended during school hours. UTLA says its teachers have been working with principals on one-hour safety plans. Let’s hope so.

If harm befalls even one child, it should be on the union leaders’ heads.

Read more

The unforeseen impact of the Gay Marriage ruling

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Will the California Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage have impact beyond the issue of marriage? Much of the current debate is focused on the decision’s legalization of same-sex marriage and a November ballot initiative whose sponsors seek to reverse its effect by putting a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.

But the future of gay marriage in California is not really in doubt. Same-sex Polling shows that those of us under 40 overwhelmingly support legalization of gay marriage; this generational view is so strong that it won’t be denied.

The unknown is whether the decision will impact other issues.

Read more

The background noise at CalPERS

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

When legislatures and governors make big mistakes, it’s often because they are focused on the wrong thing. The state’s budget shortfall of $15 billion is at the center of attention these days. But that problem would pale in size to the hidden troubles of unfunded pension liabilities in the state.

That brings me to CalPERS. I can barely balance my checkbook, so look for financial expertise elsewhere. But each day seems to bring unsettling news about the pension fund. A month ago, there were a string of resignations of top executives.  This week, we’re hearing more about a $1 billion land investment gone bad. The Wall Street Journal recently has turned up examples of conflicts of interest among actuaries in other states (though not California). In the face of all this news, CalPERS hums along, its officials saying that there’s nothing for taxpayers to worry about.

But we should worry. And so should the governor and state legislature. If CalPERS fails to perform, this state faces a fiscal disaster that would make us forget the current budget predicament. But the legislature is not being persistent enough in holding hearings and asking questions. When the pension fund gets attention, it’s usually during political debates over legislation requiring divestment from this country or that. One reason for the lack of scrutiny, unfortunately, is that CalPERS is an important source of power for the state’s labor movement, which dominates the politics of the state’s Democratic party.

Read more

Reading Arnold’s Mind

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

People have been asking your blogger the following question: what’s the difference between working at the LA Times (I quit earlier this year) and being a fellow at New America? The answer is easy: technology. Because New America is a think tank, I have access to the Mind Reading Machine (MRM), a little-known device. This weekend, I got to use the machine for the time, and I decided to point it at the brain of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Last week was a big one for him and for California: a revised budget proposal that was widely panned, his renewed push to get his budget reform plan on the November ballot, and a state Supreme Court ruling permitting gay couples to marry in the state.

Here’s what the Mind Reading Machine spit up:

"You know when something good happens at the wrong time? I can’t admit this to anyone, but that’s how I think about this gay marriage ruling.

Read more

Is there a Gay Marriage Stimulus?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The California Supreme Court has just ruled, 4-3, against California law that bars same-sex marriage. This is a profound moral and personal question for people, and I respect views on both sides. (To put my own bias on the table, my reaction to the ruling was to feel joy for people who may now be able to marry those they love. The right to marry seems to be crucial to any notion of individual freedom).

But moral choices have economic dimensions. And one question the ruling triggered in my mind is economic. I don’t mean to be crass, but could California profit through the legalization of same-sex marriage? Would the state become a draw for gay couples? Would those couples bring more wealth to the state, start more businesses, add to the tax base? Or do they consume services that negate that effect?

Read more

Doubling Down on Budget Reform

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

There is no longer any doubt about one thing in California politics: Gov. Schwarzenegger is willing to die on the cross of budget reform.

My conversations with people inside and outside the administration, and a review of news leaks in advance of his revised budget proposal this afternoon, make it clear that he is doubling down on budget reform. For a man with a reputation for twisting with political winds, he is doing the opposite here. He is so determined to pursue his budget reform (a spending-side proposal based on a rainy day fund and more power for governors to make mid-year cuts) that he is risking what’s left of his governorship.

One piece of the approach is undeniably smart. As the Sacramento Bee reports, he’s pulled back from his proposal for including education in his cuts and is proposing to meet the Prop 98 minimum on education. Schwarzenegger’s cuts might have been more fiscally responsible–but they were politically poisonous to his project of budget reform. By dropping the unpopular education cuts, he is making a strategic move that shows the depth of his commitment to budget reform — or bust.

Read more