Friday, August 26, 2005

Reform and Dodges

I was at lunch today with two friends who are college presidents. They asked about the current state of our Governor. His polls recently have been dropping. I cautioned them to not believe in the full measure of polls. The only thing lower than the Governor's present depths is that of the Legislature. But we came back to a question that should be on the minds of all Califonians. How do we revamp the system?

Surprisingly, my friends, both of whom are to the left of me, probably agree on the range of issues facing the state. We may or may not agree about the solutions but the definitions of problems is in pretty clear vision. For example, most Californians think the public schools are not in very good shape (or could be better); most would also agree that the current system of drawing districts is flawed; most would argue that the current system of taxation in the state is screwy; same thing for the range of governance options. There are undoubtedly a number of other issues that we would agree on - that need to be fixed.

If you know something about the history of the state we have a tradition of having a group of non-politicians come in an make changes that are ultimately adopted by the state. The progressives (when the word did not mean liberals)at the turn of the 20th century adopted a series of reforms that made sense when they were adopted. The changes the state established in the tax system in the 30s was another example of the process working. The Master Plan process for higher education in the 40s and 50s and 60s is also a good example. But recent attempts at reform have been mostly silly. We establish a commission they come up with pat or stylized issues that the interest groups then defeat and we continue to ad hoc issues through the initiative process.

I am not sure how we get out of that box. In earlier times it was pretty simple to corral the right people in a non-public setting to come up with some ideas. That is not possible nor should it be. But does that mean we should simply allow the state to muddle along? Lindblom notwithstanding I think not. But I am not quite sure how we escape the theater of politics on these important issues.

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