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Super committee and California: Can they each break through dysfunction?

The nation's capital and the capital of the nation's most populous state both seem dysfunctional. But even as the congressional super committee looks set to fail, a bipartisan group of high-profile Californians is readying ballot initiatives to reengineer state government, including tax reform.

By Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels / November 21, 2011

Los Angeles

A dispiriting gridlock continues to grip Washington – as well as the capital of the nation’s largest state economy, California. It undermines the public’s faith that democracy can solve America’s problems.

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As we write, the so-called “super committee” of Congress, convened to figure a way out of the nation’s fiscal crisis, is set to fail, divided along familiar partisan lines. The California government in Sacramento is similarly paralyzed.

But a more engaged citizenry can help solve this problem, at least in the Golden State. Here, a politically diverse and independent group of high-profile citizens has broken out of the untenable status quo by coming up with recommendations – including ever-elusive tax reform – to take to voters next November.

Called the Think Long Committee for California, the group –  which includes Clinton-era economic advisor Laura Tyson and Bush II Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George – has agreed to a bipartisan plan to reboot California’s dysfunctional democracy.

Unlike many other piecemeal reform efforts over recent years, the Think Long Committee plan seeks to modernize California’s system of governance by installing a new civic software more suited to the realities of the decades ahead.

Our integrated set of recommendations range from common sense practices such as a “rainy day” reserve fund to multi-year budgeting; two-year legislative sessions with one year dedicated to oversight; transparency on ballot initiative funding; K-12 and higher-ed reform; and speeding up regulatory approval to foster job creation.

But the core of our proposal has three parts:

Local empowerment. We recommend returning decision-making power and resources – where appropriate – from Sacramento to localities and regions. That’s where the real economy functions, and government is closer to the people – and thus more responsive, flexible, and accountable.

The Think Long plan, for instance, would dedicate new revenues annually to counties for public safety. It would give block grants to cities for infrastructure and other locally determined uses.

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