Sacramento Bee: Effort to overhaul California governance at a crossroads
From voters to top policymakers, almost everyone believes California’s government isn’t working. What’s less clear is how to make the system whole again.
The budget is perpetually late and out of balance. The state’s once-celebrated schools and infrastructure have degenerated into some of the lowest-ranked in the country. Polls show public confidence in state government has plummeted.
Fundamental reforms are clearly needed, say leaders of both major parties, to revamp a state constitution that’s been transformed by legislative restrictions and voter mandates into a collection of piecemeal rules.
Amid the clamor, three high-profile efforts have launched over the past three years to reorder California’s governance system. The idea of a constitutional convention to rewrite the rule book has lost momentum, but there is hope that new players on the scene – an obscure billionaire and a new (and former) governor – can breathe life into the effort.
“You can’t underestimate the level of problems we have, and the government as currently situated does not have the tools it needs to make the reforms,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the business group the Bay Area Council, which this year tried to change state law to let voters call a constitutional convention.
“In the end, we have to convince people it’s better to hold a convention and fix the problem than watch this bad movie that is California.”
The latest group, the Think Long Committee, formed by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen, brings an important advantage: the money to take its ideas to voters. He has put together a bipartisan group of high-powered players for an effort he acknowledges will take years.
Berggruen said he initially considered organizing a constitutional convention, but opted against one because “it could get out of control very quickly.”
With a new administration coming in, reform backers could find an ally in Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, who has talked of a “design change” for the state and has shown a taste for out-of-the-box solutions during his 40-year career.
But Brown has echoed concerns about a constitutional convention, telling a Marin County audience it would amount to solving “a difficult problem by an even more difficult process.”
Wunderman said members of his business group who saw the need for change balked at funding a constitutional convention that might result in a document they wouldn’t like.
“You couldn’t look them in the face and guarantee the outcome,” Wunderman said.