California: Thinking Long and the Missing Stakeholders

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California Flaf

Good Idea - Thinking long is a good idea, but the devil is in the details of how you get it to work.

California, which has a budget crisis that when scaled, is equal to or greater than the country’s has a bipartisan “supercommittee” called the Think Long Committee to  generate ideas for how to get the state out of the mess it’s in. That’s not a bad idea. Undoubtedly, someone should be thinking long.

Among others, Republicans George Schultz and Condi Rice and Democrats Gray Davis and Willie Brown represent the politicos. State Supreme Court Justice Ronald George can weigh in on legal ramifications, and biz guys Eli Broad and Eric Schmidt can address the concerns of business.

But, there’s something obvious about the committee. Do you see a missing stakeholder? It’s the largest stakeholder by far. It’s the stakeholder that will ultimately fund any suggestions that are taken up and has the most to lose if the suggestions turn out bad or get watered down to become hindrances and not successes. One last hint – they’re a whopping 99% slice of California and the other 49 states.

Marge and Joe
Citizens. The plain old Marges and Joes who work hard for a living. They’re the ones that don’t camp out on City Hall’s nice lawn because they’re too busy with two jobs and the grinding work of feeding the kids and keeping a roof of over their heads. They are part of the growing herd of people seeing their worth reduced to that of a “resource” and amortized like a closed factory similar to the one they used to work in.

Citizens are a commonly unrepresented constituency. When a company bankrupts itself through malfeasance and incompetence, workers – who provided more sweat equity and value than any shareholder or executive – are last, or non-existent, on the list of creditors.

In an era where corporations have evolved into supercitizens, fat with an unlimited supply of money from selling the overpriced to the underpaid, Justin P. Citizen can’t be heard for love or lack of money.

All that’s not to say the committee has bad ideas. Among other things, they propose rejiggering tax rates to bring in more money and make  revenue more predictable and less volatile. The want the Legislature to suck it up and plan budgets based on reality, not alchemy. They champion more money for schools, more funding for local governments to do the business of government, and investments in infrastructure. Finally, they say we need to lower the state’s debt.

Well, duh.

The committee’s recommendations are both spot-on and stupid at the same time. Spot-on because no one with an IQ higher than a peanut’s can’t see the wisdom of the proposals. And, the stupidity of thinking that will happen in the sausage factory in Sacramento. In the end, this makes the Think Long Committee more of a Think Short and Let’s Break for Martinis Committee.

Death to Runaway Ballot Initiatives
However, even as they left the terminal tumor of Prop 13 intact, they did suggest calming California’s runaway ballot initiative governance. The initiatives allowed Legislators to have interest groups draft initiatives they can use to duck responsibility for bad decisions and place responsibility on the shoulders of an increasingly polarized and less educated citizenry.

Oddly though, this may have been the most important proposal of them all. The state needs citizens capable of making intelligent decisions, not voters who duck responsibility for spending like, well, legislators. California needs a legislature capable of leading rather than muddying the waters with a baffling array of conflicting ballot initiatives that even the authors can’t understand. California needs a partnership between ALL stakeholders. Educated citizens should work with politicos – and yes, business interests that are not supercitizens, but ancillary institutions – to think long-range and take heat in the short-term in the interests of the long-term. Only then will we see a future any less dire than our present.

But, the most important question remains unanswered:

How the hell to you get this thing to work?

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