| Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Real initiatives for non-girlie men
Californians will need to gear up for a
knock-down-drag-out, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners,
hand-me-another-cliche fight between Good and Evil for the
Excuse my sarcasm, but as important as some of the Nov. 8
ballot initiatives might seem, nothing much will change in
California no matter which way the wind blows (stop me before
I cliche again). The state's special class - i.e., the highly
paid and outrageously pensioned government workers - will
spend tens of millions of dollars taken by force from its
members (and ultimately from taxpayers) to fight:
a) A Schwarzenegger-backed, Chamber-of-Commerce/Business
Roundtable plan to meekly control government spending, by
restricting spending increases to the average revenue growth
in the past three years.
b) Another Schwarzenegger initiative, which would force
teachers to work five years before being granted tenure, a
nearly ironclad protection against firing barring some gross
c) An independent initiative that would limit the ability
of unions to take money by force to fund the Democratic
politicians who are bankrupting the state by giving unions
everything they want (Look up "pension crisis," for an
d) The governor's redistricting initiative, which would let
a nonpartisan panel, rather than politicians, create
California electoral districts. Under the legislator-drawn
districts currently in force, not a single legislative seat
changed party hands in the last election cycle.
These initiatives (Propositions 76, 74, 75 and 77) are all
worthy efforts as far as they go, as is Proposition 73, which
forbids, say, the school nurse from taking your kid to the
abortion clinic without bothering to tell you about it.
Yet none of these initiatives really gets at what's at the
heart of California's and the nation's fundamental problems,
namely, an excessively large and arrogant government that
never gets enough power, money or special privileges to suit
Politics is the art of the possible, and the November
initiatives certainly are politically possible. Fortunately,
columnists have the luxury of living in the world of the
philosophical, where we can think of ideas that seem
impossible ... at least for now. Of course, for most of
humanity's existence, the ideas enshrined in the U.S.
Constitution were deemed unthinkable, so there's good reason
to float a few trial balloons, to keep reminding Americans
that real change could someday happen.
Here are a few ideas worth daydreaming about:
1) The Separation of School and State
Approximately 50 percent of the state's budget goes to
public education, not counting all the local and federal
dollars earmarked for these ill-performing government
agencies. Despite all the dollars, kids are routinely
miseducated, with the best-funded districts incapable of even
providing safe buildings with functioning lavatories (Think
The best public schools provide what would be considered
mediocre learning by past standards, as kids are spoon-fed
politically correct drivel, dispensed in one-size-fits-all
fashion, while bureaucracies get bigger, employees get better
paid and administrators enjoy the cushiest perks and $250,000
salaries. In other words, our government-controlled monopoly
system functions like every other government-controlled
monopoly system. It's for the bureaucrats, and the "customers"
- in this case, parents and children - are merely props.
Instead of voucher and charter efforts that still leave
governments in control and will take an even larger share of
taxpayers' dollars, this initiative would immediately disband
every public school system and sell off school properties to
the highest bidders.
There would be confusion for a short period, then the
free-market system would work its wonders. A complex and
unpredictable network of private schools, ranging from small
home schools to large institutions, would spring up. Parents
would pay for their own kids' education, but they would have
plenty of money to do so after the tens of billions of dollars
misspent annually on the current bureaucracies were returned
What about inequality? What about the poor?
You think the system is equal now? Do kids in public
schools in Compton get the same education as kids in Beverly
Hills? Get real, despite the ludicrous rhetoric from the
Currently, poor kids get the rawest deal, being forced to
attend unsafe and miserable schools. They would find new
choices, new opportunities, new private schools that treated
them as individuals rather than as daily attendance numbers.
Churches and charities would help the poorest of the poor
afford the tuition, which is typical of what Catholic schools
now offer in inner-city areas.
Competition would reign supreme, with bad and mediocre
schools losing customers to better ones. We would all have
more freedom. Radical idea? Well, it's only radical if you
think free-market systems are radical and centrally planned
Soviet-style economies are preferable.
2) The End of Redevelopment As We Know It
California's redevelopment laws allow cities to create
agencies designed to combat blight through a bizarre financial
instrument known as Tax Increment Financing. Once the agencies
declare an area blighted - blight is pretty much anything some
bureaucrats say is blight - then the agency gains the increase
in property taxes from any improvements made in the blighted
area from that day forward.
These redevelopment agencies are empowered to float debt,
lard out corporate welfare to favored trough-positioned
companies and use eminent domain to transfer properties from
their current owners (i.e., average folks) to favored
developers (i.e., Costco). The result is the destruction of
property rights and the creation of endless strip malls
subsidized by taxpayers.
This initiative would shut down every such agency, outlaw
the use of eminent domain except for roads and a few other
genuinely public uses, and ban subsidies to corporations, auto
malls, chain stores and other private development
Wouldn't it be sad to force those poor Armani-suit-wearing
corporate chiefs to have to pay market rates for property or
actually build a stadium, theater or mall without tax dollars?
I'm already choked up about it.
What about the existing debt? The cities that ran up the
redevelopment debt would have to pay off the bonds out of
their existing budgets, and no tax increases or new bonds
would be allowed to help out. If it means shutting down 60
percent of the government, switching to a volunteer fire
department and selling City Hall, well, I can live with
3) The Take A Bite Out of Takings
Governments are built around the concept of organized
plunder: politically powerful groups - i.e., unions,
environmentalists, bureaucrats, other special interests,
favor-seeking corporations - use the power of the state to
take things from other people, and redirect the proceeds to
It's no wonder that the government treats property rights
so shabbily, as it routinely imposes new regulations that
strip property of its value. When eminent domain is used, at
least "just compensation" must be paid. Property owners rarely
get what they deserve, but at least they get something.
Unfortunately, with regulatory takings, the government steals
the value of land by imposing new restrictions on its use, and
it rarely has to pay the owner compensation if the owner
retains title to the land.
This initiative would require that government compensate
owners of property for the lost value for any regulation or
delay in approvals. So, if Government A declares that a
developer can only build a handful of houses on his oceanfront
land rather than the number he planned, then the government
must pay up. You want to regulate, OK, but you've got to pay
for it! What freedom-loving person could be opposed to that
There are all sorts of other ideas, such as an initiative
that would cap government spending at a fraction of its
current level, or one that would cap taxation at, say, 10
percent of income, or an initiative that outlaws
defined-benefit pension plans for "guvmint" workers, or one
that removes sovereign immunity that protects government
officials from being sued for many of their actions. Send me
your ideas at the e-mail address listed below. I'll print the
best ones on the Register blog.
Could any of these qualify for the ballot, or have a chance
of getting passed and not be overturned by the liberal courts?
Of course not. But it's worth ruminating on the possibility of
a fight over real measures that would dramatically improve
Call me a dreamer. But all real advances started with a
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