California offers a warning to voters all over the world
Apr 20th 2011 | from the print edition
CALIFORNIA is once again nearing the end of its fiscal year with a huge budget hole and no hope of a deal to plug it, as its constitution requires. Other American states also have problems, thanks to the struggling economy. But California cannot pass timely budgets even in good years, which is one reason why its credit rating has, in one generation, fallen from one of the best to the absolute worst among the 50 states. How can a place which has so much going for it—from its diversity and natural beauty to its unsurpassed talent clusters in Silicon Valley and Hollywood—be so poorly governed?
It is tempting to accuse those doing the governing. The legislators, hyperpartisan and usually deadlocked, are a pretty rum bunch. The governor, Jerry Brown, who also led the state between 1975 and 1983, has (like his predecessors) struggled to make the executive branch work. But as our special report this week argues, the main culprit has been direct democracy: recalls, in which Californians fire elected officials in mid-term; referendums, in which they can reject acts of their legislature; and especially initiatives, in which the voters write their own rules. Since 1978, when Proposition 13 lowered property-tax rates, hundreds of initiatives have been approved on subjects from education to the regulation of chicken coops.