The Most Dangerous Idea on the November Ballot. And Maybe the Best.


The most dangerous idea on the November ballot isn't one initiative. It's a small piece of a larger initiative.

The initiative is Prop 31, the long (8,000 words) and complicated reform proposal brought forth by the California Forward Action Fund, the political arm of the foundation-funded, good-government giant.

Prop 31 is mostly thought of as a budget reform measure -- because California Forward put almost every conceivable, technocratic budget idea it could in the measure.

It's too much. With all the reforms in it -- paygo, performance-based budget, greater budget power for the governor, etc., etc. -- it's impossible for anyone to know how it will change the budget process, other than making it more complicated. The only guarantee is that there will be unintended consequences.

But there's another piece of Prop 31 that's so thoughtful, provocative and disruptive that it should be its own measure -- because it deserves serious consideration.

The provision in question would allow local governments to work together to adopt "Community Strategic Action Plans." That sounds bureaucratic, but it's potentially revolutionary.

Governments could come together and do big things -- on the regional level, where more smart, collaborative governance is needed in California -- even if state laws and regulations are in their way.

That's what makes it dangerous -- and potentially so appealing. California's regions are really the size of states. They have distinct interests, and shouldn't have to live under the same states as other regions, particularly if such laws get in the way of progress.

That said, it's easy to see how local governments could abuse this power and circumvent important laws that protect the environment or freedom of information.

What to do? The more your blogger thinks about it, the more he likes the idea of living dangerously.

One reason Californians aren't engaged in government is that their governments can't do all that much, particularly on the local level.

Giving local governments the ability, and the power, to do more in collaboration would not only solve problems -- it would bring more people into the process. And I tend to think that the potential of that power is worth the very real downside risk of having locals trample on the rights of others.

Unfortunately, this powerful idea is part of the same initiative as all those budget reforms.

Another problem with Prop 31: it's a constitutional amendment, adding too much into an already too-long constitution.

If only the idea for Community Strategic Action Plans could stand on its own.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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