How many times in the past few decades have politicians and pundits declared that California is ungovernable in its current state?
In the late 1980s, Republican political consultant Stu Spencer offered an identical perspective to then-Sen. Pete Wilson, who was contemplating a run for governor. Spencer’s warning didn’t discourage Wilson, who went on to serve two terms in Sacramento.
By the time Wilson turned over the office to his successor in early 1999, there was a budget surplus, a strong economy and record-high approval ratings.
Four years ago, Jerry Brown was told the same thing by his advisers. He knew better, and now Brown is earning national recognition for governing the state with confidence and resolve.
Granted, managing California, home to one in eight Americans, is a complex task. 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 is proposing?
Draper has authored a ballot initiative to establish a process by which California would be broken up into six states. San Francisco and the Peninsula would form a new state Draper calls Silicon Valley. A commission would divide assets and liabilities among these new states. Draper has committed $750,000 thus far to gathering signatures to place it on the ballot.
It’s a bad investment in fixing California.
Unlike venture capitalists, voters don’t embrace risk. They avoid it. And Draper’s proposal carries substantial risk.
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 composed of counties in the far north, would have no 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?
Out of the 180,000 California residents who currently attend the University of California, more than 108,000 attend a UC campus that is not in the new “state” to which they would be assigned by Draper’s plan. That’s more than two-thirds of the Californians at UC who could be reclassified as nonresidents.
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 would be a net importer of water, guarantee adequate water supplies to its residents and industries?
Draper say his Six Californias plan is a solution to these problems:
- “We need better government services” delivered by government that is “closer to its constituents.”
- Our water infrastructure is “antiquated.”
- California’s corrections system has failed to protect public safety.
- California’s K-12 system is costly and underperforms.
- 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 proposal and any of these problems.
California needs serious solutions to difficult problems. Draper’s proposal may be provocative, but it isn’t a solution to anything.
Joe Rodota is CEO of Forward Observer, and former cabinet secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson.