Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This Day in Bad Ideas: Think Long's Ballot Super-Committee

We've already taken a hatchet to the Think Long Committee's proposal to extend California's unsustainable status quo on the backs of private industry. But it turns out we should've delved more deeply to find all the layers of absurdity in their plan. According to this report in Capitol Notes, a $10 billion tax hike in the middle of 12% unemployment is apparently not the worst idea in Think Long's proposal.

An even worse idea than handing the fate of the political system over to this guy.
One part of the plan that billionaire Nicolas Berggruen wants to put on next year's ballot calls for the creation of a "Citizen's Council for Government Accountability." Basically, this council would be a sort of Super-Committee, with the power to put both statutory and constitutional measures on the ballot without interference from the Legislature or any requirement to gather signatures. The committee's proposed statutes would only require a simple majority, while constitutional amendments would require a two-thirds majority. The idea being that the Citizen's Council, freed from the need to play electoral politics or raise millions in special-interest cash, will represent the public's interests in a way that the Legislature and the current initiative process fall short of. Or something.

Where do you start with this? The idea that the Council would be immune to the efforts of special interests is laughable. Nine of the 13 members would be appointed by the Governor, with two of those spots reserved for those with an independent or third-party affiliation; the other four members, two Democrats and two Republicans, would be appointed by the leadership in the Legislature. Does anyone with even a passing familiarity with the culture of Sacramento believe that Jerry Brown, Darrell Steinberg, and John Perez would fail to appoint a super-majority to get every pro-union, green-energy, and tax hike plan they can think of onto the ballot? More generally, does anyone really believe that this committee would be composed of average laypeople, as opposed to insiders? Yet this almost certainly isn't an accident.

The problem with Think Long is that it's fundamentally a product of the political elites that very much want to maintain their position in California's status quo. To these people, the biggest problems facing the Golden State are the difficulty and cost of getting a massive middle-class tax hike, draconian environmental regulations, and a business environment favoring organized labor and big in-state employers passed into law. The partisan gridlock and hopeless incompetence in the Legislature have made it almost impossible to get what they want via traditional representative democracy, and the costs of gathering petition signatures and advertising for ballot initiatives can easily run into the millions. For the taxpayers, of course, this is a wonderful thing: taxes have gone down this year, and there are signs that the jobs picture may be turning around. But the Think Long people don't necessarily care about the taxpayers; like all elitists since the beginning of time, they believe that the things they want will be best for everyone. With the Citizen's Council in place, all they'd need to do is make sure their friends got elected to the key offices in Sacramento, so that they could stack the committee appropriately. But let's not pretend that it's about giving the rest of California "a more active voice regarding the long term future direction of the state."

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