Sunday, January 02, 2011

Roscoe Conkling's Reformers

In this morning's Bee there are a series of articles about how to "reform" California.   I am always reminded of Roscoe Conkling's comment on reform - "Those who fear the attraction that patriotism has for scalawags and scofflaws, have failed to capture the allure of reform."     Reform is always in the eyes of the beholder - but indeed something is wrong with California. 

The Bee - offers a set of six options from which readers are asked to choose is the most important - the options include:
  1.  Realign state and local revenues and responsibilities to renovate a system that has become over-centralized.
  2. Simplify, broaden and flatten the tax structure for a broader base with lower rates.
  3.  Reform the budget process to keep spending within fiscal constraints, including a rainy day fund, long-term and performance-based budgeting.
  4. Modify term limits to enhance accountability, decisiveness and quality of the Legislature.
  5. Reform initiative process to curb ballot-box budgeting.
  6. Streamline regulation in order to promote a better business climate and stimulate job creation, while being careful to protect the environment.
There are two things that attracted my attention on this list.  First, there are some obvious things on the list which would improve state government substantially but are not listed.  For example, how about reforming and reducing public pensions? Their costs were partially abated in the recent reform legislation but we clearly have a crisis based on the costs of providing benefits to public employees that are well in advance of what private sector employees could obtain.

Second, why should people choose only one.  From the list my first TWO choices would be numbers 2 and 6 - to simplify the tax and regulatory burden in the state.   But one without the other would be far less powerful.

California is about to embark on some changes which some might call reform.  Unfortunately, Mr. Conkling's nostrum is not always in clear view.  Those same scalawags and scofflaws that brought us California's decline still have the bully pulpit of reform.   Does that mean we should not try to change the system?  Absolutely not, but we should be cautious around people who claim to want to help us out of our problem.

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