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August 22, 2009 12:00 AM UTC

A Cautionary Tale About Californication

  • by: COFPI

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

You might recall this last legislative session when certain legislators in the minority party waxed breathlessly (and wholly inaccurately) about how repealing a statutory budget formula would result in Colorado turning into California.  This outlandish talking point is as ironic as it is scary.  This week’s New Yorker includes an excellent write up that outlines why California should be a cautionary tale in terms of avoiding budgeting by formulas and mandates, as well as what happens when you don’t adequately invest in a state’s future:  

California’s constitution, with its five hundred or so amendments, is so long that its full text would occupy every line of the magazine you are holding.  Thanks largely to initiatives, many of them well intentioned, it is also wildly at odds with itself.  It contains so many set-asides and mandates that the legislature can control only about seven per cent of the state budget even when it deigns to pass one.

While the repeal of a budget formula last session strengthens the state’s position coming out of the recession, the fact is that Colorado is at serious risk of going down the same road that California finds itself on now.  And the danger in Colorado is that not only do we have a web of constraints and restrictions in how we budget for our future, but we also don’t have the revenue system in place to sustain the public services Colorado families rely on everyday.  It’s not just about TABOR, Gallagher, Amendment 23, and other provisions, it’s also about revenue-and the fact that Colorado doesn’t have enough of it to invest in our own future.

California is not just a cautionary tale for our long term fiscal future, but it also illustrates how Colorado cannot cut our way back to prosperity, nor can we afford to continue eroding our investments in public services and structures that we rely on everyday:

California, it turns out, is ungovernable. Its public schools, once the nation’s best, are now among the worst. Its transportation and water systems are deteriorating. Its prisons are so overcrowded that it has to turn tens of thousands of felons loose. And its legislature has spent most of the year in a farcical effort to pass the annual budget, leaving little or no time for other matters, such as-well, schools, transportation, water, and prisons. This is “normal”: the same thing has happened in eighteen of the past twenty-two years.

Colorado’s solution may indeed be entirely different than the solution materializing in California.  But the important thing is that a solution does materialize.  The first step is admitting we have a problem, and that’s well underway.  Aside from the ideologues who are either unwilling or unable to admit there is a problem, almost everyone can agree that the state’s fiscal system is a mess and is unsustainable.  

The next step is figuring out what to do about it.  And we can start by stopping budget cuts.  That’s been the strategy for the last two decades, and we can’t afford for it to continue.  Instead, we need to recognize the revenue side of the ledger, and reinforce the fact that a strong public sector makes businesses more profitable and our economy stronger.  To avoid California’s fate, we need a little less conventional wisdom, and a little more courage and creativity.  


5 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale About Californication

    1. They are elitists.  

      Why won’t they support a constitutional convention?  

      Why won’t they support going to the ballot to ask the voters to approve tax hikes to expand the operation of the government?

      Why do they insist on running the goverment into the ground as the expand it without the funds to cover the expansion, then rob higher ed to fund their pet projects?

      1. Frankly, this country could use a few more people who are tops in their positions.  The level of disrespect for intelligence and learning in this country is disgraceful.

        The extra year of delay caused because the Legislature must ask taxpayers every time they make the slightest tax adjustment is a detriment to the state’s economy – it’s ability to respond to recession or changing economic balances.  Even moving the restraints from taxation and leaving the spending restraints in place would be an improvement, though by no means an acceptance of the realities of government spending – that general inflation is not a good indicator of government expense levels.

  1. The only limitation on the citizen-delegates without needing any cash advance, within their subject matter, would be the federal Constitution’s guarantee to every state of “a republican form of government,” which is to say a free and popular one: no hereditary kings, please. But the convention would be at liberty to choose from the full menu of democratic forms and structures, of which the standard eighteenth-century American model-a president or governor, a lower house or assembly, and a senate, all separately elected-is only one. If California has the courage and imagination to become a true laboratory of democracy, the experiment will be something to see.

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