All about ideas…

In Opposition: Don’t Count California Moderates Out Yet

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Libertarian Steve Greenhut of the GOP aligned Franklin Center for Government and Public IntegrityLibertarian Steve Greenhut, of the 501(c)3, GOP aligned Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, wrote a highly negative critique in Bloomberg News of the two 2010 voter approved California propositions that seek to make voters voices more dominate in elections as well as clean up the election process.

The first proposition removes redistricting from the parties by requiring a non-partisan citizen to redraw district lines. Californians hoped that by having non-partisan citizens draw district lines the voices of the most extreme elements of both parties would be muted, creating an atmosphere in which more moderate legislators would be elected. By eliminating the most extreme candidates through the voting process, the desire of Californians was to create a legislature that was more willing to seek solutions through negotiations which would make life better for all Californians.

The second proposition, proposed by former Gov. Schwarzenegger, which Californians approved via the ballot box, was that the top two vote winning primary candidates, regardless of party, would move forward to the general election. California primaries were held on June 5 so the outcome of this new voting system remains an unknown.

However, from Mr. Greenhut’s op-ed, it is apparent he does not approve of the outcome of these two newly approved initiatives, as the results to date, have not favored GOP candidates. Worse, he derides all moderates, regardless of party or no party, as having no new or innovative ideas for solving the state’s challenges.

But his analysis is far too simplistic and fails to take into account the economic and demographic realities of California, such as the high cost of living in California.

    – Even during this real estate slump, a 1000 square ft home in a rural county still sells for $135K minimum and up to close to a $1M in the San Francisco Bay Area.
    – Gas prices are the highest in the nation, outside of Hawaii.
    – Water costs that equal or exceed food costs.
    – Huge infrastructure costs for everything from highways to levies to water systems (feeding So. Cal with water from the mountains).

The list could go on, but face it, a median national income of $50K/yr puts a family of four in near poverty ranking in California because of living costs. As a result, California companies are forced to pay higher wages for very qualified people. Most of the people leaving the state are not leaving because of high taxes; they’re leaving because of the high cost of living. And this has been the case since the mid to late ’70s. Plus, global companies cannot easily compete when their fixed costs are so high, mainly as a result of the high land costs. Supply and demand.

Moreover, the state houses thousands of federal prisoners, which as Schwarzenegger complained, the federal government has not paid the state for their upkeep and detention. Californians have had to foot that bill. I’m guessing that CA has the highest prison population in the country. So why are we footing the bill for the federal government…and why are we paying so much to private prison companies? Poor negotiation skills? Too much monetary influence from that industry on state lawmakers, thereby creating a conflict of interest?

Next, California has a large population, particularly in So. Cal, of low education, unskilled workers, many of whom migrated from other states particularly in the South to California who require greater state services. That population puts an extraordinary strain on state budgets and services.

And let’s not forget the proposition process that allows voters to mandate state spending without knowing the budget implications. For example, because of one proposition, the state is constitutionally mandated to provide a set amount to schools, regardless of how much revenue the state takes in. As a result, school spending is the largest item in the budget. At the same time, voters refused to cough up the additional revenues to pay for their mandated school spending.

As a moderate, I also disagree with your proposition that moderates have no ideas. On the contrary, it is the hard-line Republicans and Democrats that have no new or innovative ideas. The two voter approved initiatives (propositions) were people inspired decisions to break the logjam in Sacramento and to eliminate the hardliners. As the 9th largest economy in the world, Californians seek solutions for all Californians, not just a few.

We love our state and don’t want to sell it off to the highest bidder or see our many natural wonders disappear or have even higher rates of health problems, like asthma amongst our children. Because of pollution in the Central Valley, we can’t even visit the world’s oldest trees! And the Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains are dying off faster than they can logged.

But we do need new, innovative solutions.

I would not approve of eliminating bargaining rights for any workers because I believe it’s a lawful (going back to the Magna Carta) and Constitutional right to gather together and negotiate (redress) grievances. However, I would eliminate civil service guarantees. The notion of a guaranteed job for life was an idea from long ago meant to induce workers to perform better because they never had to worry about being laid off. However, human nature being what it is, it’s had the opposite effect. In other words, take a lesson from the private sector: workers either maintain high performance or get fired.

I would also eliminate tenure for the same reason. Public sector workers, too, should be required to work until they are 65 (or later) to receive their state pensions. No more retiring at 50 or 55 on pensions equal to their last year’s salary for the rest of their lives. In other words, retire early if you like but you’ll not receive a pension until you’re at least 62. Moreover, a la Social Security, the monthly amount received will be reduced for each years of early retirement. And like Social Security, the amount received would be based on the average income over the previous five years. Additionally, I’d eliminate the saving of vacation days, year over year. When my brother retired as a state Budget Analyst, he had about two years worth of income due him as a result of deferred, never taken vacation days. In the private sector, that scenario would never be allowed where “use it or lose” it dominates.

The State governments also needs to be reorganized. Since we’re in a much more competitive world, local, state and federal governments need to think more competitively. Rules and regulations need to consistent across departments. Business application processes need to be streamlined and more efficient – after all, we are living in the Internet age. One application should serve for every department. Heck, I’d even go so far as to advocate a time limit on governmental approval – for a defined number of years (with good back-end analysis on a yearly basis) – which the government must meet or the business can proceed without all the necessary approvals, provided of course that businesses met all the disclosure and regulatory requirements within a stated amount of time. I don’t like businesses using loopholes to avoid requirements.

Lastly, at least for today, I’d advocate for a complete overhaul of the poverty programs. Originally, these programs were set up to provide temporary assistance to those who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in dire financial need. But once in the program, it’s bloody hard to get out because of the unusually onerous, restrictive rules…such as not owning a car that is worth more than an unsafe, unreliable junker. Let’s get real on the requirements!

Moreover, the purpose of these safety net programs is to get people back into the workforce. Consequently, the recipients of this assistance may need skills training or education. Instead of saying five years – on your own – and you’re out, say you have five years to complete your college education (with quarterly grade reports going to your case worker to insure continued eligibility) with a 2.5 GPA at the very least or trade school training.

Every recipient of state aid should be required to meet with a social worker to determine how to get them out of the system and into a sustainable life as quickly as possible. Qualified for a college education, go for it. Prefer trade school, go for it. Just need short-term help between jobs, okay but limited based on unemployment time averages.

Plus, assist these potential workers needs with childcare to help them over the hump while recreating their lives…and by all means, hold them accountable. Consistent attendance, average or better test and class scores, and graduation required. In other words, you don’t maintain your grades or finish you classes or training, you’re out on your proverbial ear and your children will be put up for adoption to provide them with the lives they deserve and should have.

As for poverty programs like SCHIP and food stamps, well, the only way to resolve those problems are for workers to receive higher wages. In CA, that’s difficult because of the high cost of living bumps up against a minimum wage that is hardly better (in terms of inflation/living costs) than 1964. Yet, to increase minimum wages much more would (as is really needed considering the rise in the cost of living) means many truly small businesses (mom and pop’s) will not be able to return a profit on their investment. So, let market forces decide true wages – and the market values of employees – but reduce the number of low wage workers through education and skills training of those who so heavily rely on social services.

The only way to reduce these social service needs is higher employment rates with higher wages and greater educational/skill levels of the workers. No one wants to see children hungry, living on the streets, sick, or clothed in rags. As a society, we should morally demand more of ourselves and our neighbors than a pre-20th Century scenario. To use old Dane-Saxon ideology, the “commonweal” (quite literally, the health and welfare of the entire community) matters for a cohesive society, void of revolts. But by reforming our social service programs, as noted above, we can reduce the number of workers who are forced to accept low wages and live in poverty that requires greater social contributions towards their sustainability.

These are the ideas of a moderate. Can the GOP, for which Mr. Greenhut appears to advocate, match these for new ideas? Changing the State’s electoral system may not have worked yet, but it is far too early to call it a failure.

Moderates, like myself but much younger, may yet have a chance to break through the partisan clutter of the last 30 years to create a more sustainable, health economy in California. Libertarian partisans like Mr. Greenhut should not count them – or California – out yet.


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