Three Crises, Three Opportunities

Luke Phillips
Research Associate for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and Senior Correspondent at Glimpse From the Globe

The Roundup, Capitol Weekly’s daily morning news brief, covered three of the biggest issues facing the Golden State on the morning of October 19, and unintentionally highlighted why it’s so crucial that the California GOP popularizes a reformist agenda ahead of the 2016 and 2018 elections.

First, the LA Times reported on the bipartisan desire to fund road repair, and the contrasting policy approaches- Democrats’ desire to increase gas taxes and other user fees, and Republicans’ counter-offer of… not much.

Second, another LA Times article highlighted the ongoing controversy over the University of California’s questionably-spent budget and Sacramento’s waning support. There’s a lot of meat in there, so read it. Basically, it’s the same Brown-Napolitano debate- spend less and regulate more, or spend more and regulate less. Interesting, given the massive transformations in higher education that (California-born!) technology is making possible, that we’re talking about this in solely administrative terms.

Finally, the Sacramento Bee reported on some of the water wars going on in NorCal at the moment. The Westlands Water District “invoked the California Environmental Quality Act and the Endangered Species Act to oppose allowing Modesto farmers to use recycled water from nearby towns on their crops.” Interesting to see environmentalists opposing… recycling.

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Stories on infrastructure and education, and on regulatory overreach. It seems to me that the two biggest issue baskets facing the state are what I like to call the “Better Business Climate” or “BBC,” which covers tax, regulatory, and legal reforms, and “Comprehensive Budget Reform,” or “CBR,” which covers our state’s unsustainable fiscal profligacy and its relationship to investing in and reforming education at all levels and infrastructure of all sorts.

On roads- Infrastructure construction and maintenance is the third or fourth responsibility of the state, and we need to find a way to fund it. That said, burdening the middle and working classes even more is not the way to do it. With tens of billions of dollars going into boondoggle projects like High-Speed Rail, or worse, into the pockets of public-employee unions, Republicans should propose the logical alternative- find the money elsewhere in the budget, and direct it somewhere it will be useful. Comprehensive Budget Reform is the means.

On the UC- I don’t claim to be an expert on higher education reform, so I’m part of the problem- where are the Republican policy wonks proposing alternative solutions to the UC stagnation, solutions that neither the Brown camp nor the Napolitano camp could politically support? That debate shouldn’t be solely a thing of whether Sacramento or the UC President should have more power and how much money the UC should get. No, it’s time we summon the creativity and political macho that Governor Brown the First used to implement the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, and reform California’s higher-education system along the cleaner, techier lines of 21st Century technology and society. Throwing more money at it isn’t the answer at the moment- fundamentally changing the nature of the system, on the other hand, might be.

On water- The fact that California faces such a water shortage that Modesto farmers would even have to consider using recycled wastewater to water their crops is a travesty. William Mulholland and Henry Huntington would never have stood for it. They would have built the necessary infrastructure to bring water to the Central Valley, or, in the 21st Century, would have built infrastructure that could produce more water- like desalination plants. California’s 840 miles of coastline make this more feasible for us than many states. But the continued abuse of laws like CEQA by environmentalist radicals precludes such hydro-pragmatism, and points out a deeper problem in California politics- the placing of “environmental concerns” over human welfare, and indeed, the mistaken belief that human activity and prosperity is always a threat to the health of the planet. In 2016 and 2018, Republicans should fight these narratives not by denying them, but by telling a different story. The Oakland-based Breakthrough Institute can help with that.

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I hope my point is clear enough. The CAGOP doesn’t need to adopt any of the policy positions staked out above- but it does need to do something. Being the Party of Reagan doesn’t cut it anymore, if by “Being the Party of Reagan” one means “Opposing tax increases, environmental regulations, and other Democratic big-government measures.”

We need a positive agenda if we’re going to inspire the Californian people the way Ronald Reagan once inspired us- we need new ideas, and we need to push them well. One of the reasons I-a very moderate Republican, and a foe of the Freedom Caucus-am glad that Congressman McCarthy has declined the Speaker’s seat, is that the man never brought an original idea to the public square in his life. For all his virtue as a problem-solver and a networker, he never displayed the intellectual dynamism our party so desperately need in this historical moment.

That needs to change. In the current California crises of the water shortage, the UC’s stagnation, our infrastructure deficit, and many more from our ballooning debt to our self-imposed energy shortage to the declining prospects of the California Dream, we must offer up ideas grander and more feasible than those the ruling Democrats can muster. I can only hope my fellow Republicans take up the opportunity with me.

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