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

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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.

An independent citizens watchdog. A nonpartisan  watchdog for the long-term public interest can act as a counterbalance to the short-term mentality and special-interest political culture that dominates Sacramento.

This impartial “Citizens Council for Government Accountability” would be empowered to place initiatives directly on the ballot for public approval. It will ensure that the public’s priorities remain at the top of the policy agenda over the long-term.

The council would, for example, keep front-and-center such priorities as excellence in education and a world-class infrastructure, working to make sure that California taxpayers get their “return on investment.”

A modern broad-based tax system. It’s time to update California’s tax system to mirror the real composition of our modern service and information economy. A main component will be to tax services.

The ideologically rigid will have a hard time putting this proposal in any box. It is a pragmatic response to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s October 2011 report on California’s budget woes. That report points out that the boom-and-bust “volatility” of the business cycle that wreaks havoc with state finances has increased in recent years – making the state’s reliance on personal income taxes dangerous.

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