I like and respect Tim Draper, the venture capitalist. His investments in start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the world have helped fuel the global economy and given us new products and services we use every day.
But Draper newest idea – a ballot initiative to split California into six new states – is a bad investment.
Dividing California into six new states means disassembling the University of California. Two out of three UC students attend a campus far from home, exposing them to out-of-state tuition of $36,000 a year under Draper’s plan. The total cost to parents for charging all these students out-of-state fees would be $2.4 billion, and one state – Jefferson, in the north – would have no UC campus at all.
The new state of Silicon Valley would not have enough local water to serve its populations and businesses.
The initiative would create the richest state in the nation (Silicon Valley), as well as the poorest state (Central California).
Under the Draper plan, California businesses would potentially have to file six state tax returns a year, and many in-state transactions would be subject to federal law, regulated as interstate commerce.
This is just a partial list of headaches this proposal would impose on all of us, if passed by the voters either this November or in 2016.
Breaking California into six states won’t solve any of our problems, and will create millions of new ones.
California isn’t broken and ungovernable, as Draper asserts, but it’s far from perfect. A debate about major reforms, rather than more tinkering with the status quo, is worth having.
So if Draper wanted to make positive, major change in California, where could he start?
He might take a look at amending the state constitution to allow contracting out of government services if doing so could be shown to reduce costs or improve performance. The current constitution, with some exceptions, bans contracting any existing state service that might displace a public employee.
He might tackle the problem of the chronic failure of technology projects in California state government, which cost taxpayers billions, enrich incompetent vendors, and leave some state operations locked in the computing stone age of the 1970s.
He might place on the California ballot an initiative to extend the state’s open-records act to the California Legislature, which has exempted itself from the law that applies to every other state and local government agency.
Or he might adapt California’s phenomenally successful venture capital model to solving California’s problems. Why not create a “Draper Prize” of $100,000 for the best ideas for fixing California, with a $1 million bonus for any idea that reaches the ballot and is passed by the voters?
Some observers say there is no harm in letting Draper have his shot – that he should feel free to place his proposal on the ballot once he has collected the required number of signatures. But there are negative impacts to consider.
First, an initiative that would cause California literally to disband sends a message of defeat to the world just as our state is climbing out of a recession.
Second, while there isn’t a three-strikes rule for reformers, Draper has already experienced one failure on the California ballot, a school choice measure in 2000. His next step in front of the voting public should be as the sponsor of a winning idea.
My hope over the next few days is that Tim Draper will look upon his pile of petitions and decide to send them to be composted on a farm near his hometown of Atherton. There are better uses of his time and financial resources if he really wants to make California a better place.