California gives nation a lesson on bad governing

California is a broken state. Government by referendum has made the nation’s largest state ungovernable.
The message sent to the other 49 states is loud and clear: direct democracy doesn’t work.
Tuesday’s special election there put an exclamation point on that statement. The voters re-jected five ballot measures intended to balance the budget through a mix of tax increases, borrowing and the reallocation of state money, initiatives the California Legislature had approved in February but had to go to a statewide referendum because of constitutional requirements imposed by the people in years past.
Because the state now faces a $21.3 billion budget deficit, and is on the verge of bankruptcy, steep cuts in education, health care, highway maintenance, operation of prisons, etc., etc., etc., must be made. The salaries of all elected officials have already been cut 18 percent. If similar reductions are made in the wages of all state workers, the state can expect angry demonstrations and shutdowns of critical services.
To deal with the crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwar-zenegger has proposed furloughing prisoners, closing emergency centers for abused women and children, cutting medical care for poor children, reducing aid to community colleges and other equally unpopular economies that would cost the state dearly in the long run.
The only way California’s 36.5 million people can claw their way out of this deepening hole is to convene a constitutional convention and start fresh.
These basic reforms are essential: the re-quirement of a two-thirds majority to pass a state budget should be dropped and majority rule reinstated; legislative districts should be redrawn to end the present domination by ex-tremists in both parties; the number of representatives and senators should be increased to give better representation to local areas; the right of amending the constitution by petition and referendum should be eliminated or sharply restricted to restore the power of a representative legislature to govern.
The lesson California is teaching the nation is that the founding fathers knew what they were doing when they gave the power to govern to elected members of Congress and an elected president rather than providing for a direct vote of the people on day-to-day decisions on taxes and spending.
The U.S. Constitution and most of the state constitutions also provide for majority rule on taxation and spending. California is, for example, one of only three states that requires a super-majority to pass a budget — and, as a direct consequence, is one of the few of the 50 states that cannot raise the money needed to serve its people well.

WHILE Californians were saying no to responsible government, Gov. Schwarzenegger was in Washington pleading for a $6 billion loan to keep his state functioning. News reports didn’t say how the administration will respond to that re-quest.
Because more than 12 percent of the nation’s population live there, President Obama may decide that he should drop stimulus money into the governor’s begging cup.
But direct federal aid to improvident states contradicts the basic principles of our federal system and, if granted in this extreme case, should be labeled a one-time grant justified by the recession, given with the understanding that the state has pledged to return to sound principles.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.