From the Tarnished Golden State, Lessons for Washington -- The state that can't.
[California has a] political culture that has made [the state] increasingly ungovernable.
One reason California officials have papered over their problems is that they are handicapped by structural impediments that distort their budgetary process. For example, the state requires a two-thirds majority to pass the budget, a virtual guarantee that lawmakers collectively duck the most painful, but possibly necessary, changes to put the state on a sound fiscal footing.
Beyond that, the ballot initiative process in California has locked legislators and the governor into spending requirements and allocations that reduce flexibility when times are tough.
The rest of the country has long looked to California as the future. It was once a leader in developing public infrastructure, and it created the most enviable system of public universities in the nation. Now the nation sees California and worries that its economic and political troubles will infect other states.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said the rest of the country can learn a valuable lesson from California's inability to deal with its problems.
"This is where a culture of hyper-polarization eventually leads," he said. "Two armed camps, separated by an almost insurmountable gulf, a recipe of gerrymandering, ideologically tailored media and increasingly influential interest groups on both sides leads you to a point where if every single elected representative faithfully represents the views of his or her constituents, there will never be agreement on anything, ever."
And don't forget that famous ballot initiative -- Proposition 13. As noted in The New York Times:
Expansive growth in the first half of the 20th century led to rising housing prices and infrastructure growth, which came with higher taxes to pay for it all.
Those increases created an antitax rebellion that begot Proposition 13 in the 1970s, a voter-led initiative that artificially depressed property taxes and shifted school financing burdens to the state. It also led to the onset of a culture of ballot initiatives that have hamstrung state budgeters by earmarking money for programs with one vote and taking away the ability to pay for them with others.
The state’s population — over 38 million today from 23.6 million in 1980 — has also meant a growing need for costly services for the poor, especially when revenues are declining.
While the state’s property taxes are below average, its personal income tax rate and levies on capital gains are among the highest; so unlike states that pass the tax burden around, California can become disastrously imbalanced.