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That Crazy-Ass Six California Plan Is Not Going Away

Scott Lucas | February 20, 2014 | Story Politics

A Silicon Valley venture capitalist who opens a "University of Heroes" named after himself is begging you not to take him seriously. Anybody who flogs the idea to split up California into multiple states—a go-nowhere proposal that is older than the state of California (representatives of the Southern states floated an idea to admit a slave-holding Southern California)—is also not exactly presenting the picture of political sobriety.

So when VC Tim Draper began to float his idea to sever California into six separate states, it was pretty easy to dismiss it. However, today Draper has cleared a substantial hurdle, and will soon begin circulating a proposed ballot initiative for signatures. If he manages to round up the necessary 807,615 signatures, the measure will go to the ballot.

So, guess it's time to take Draper's sextuplet California plan seriously. Which is a drag, because it's a seriously awful idea.

What's the argument in favor of the plan? As Draper told ABC News, "California, as it is, is ungovernable. It is more and more difficult for Sacramento to keep up with the social issues from the various regions of California. With six Californias, people will be closer to their state governments, and states can get a refresh." His proposal would be to carve the state into six regions, each with their own capitol, Constitution, state lawmakers, and Congressional representatives. Under his plan, the greater Bay Area would become its own state, called Silicon Valley; LA and Santa Barbara would form West California; San Diego and Orange County would be South California; Marin, Sonoma, Sacramento would be North California; the far northern counties would become Jefferson; and Fresno and the San Joaquin valley would turn into Central California. So what's wrong with this idea? Lot's of things:

1. California's un-governability isn't a function of its size—it's a function of its rules. Remember a few years ago when we used to be laughingstock because we couldn't get our act together? All those late budgets, recall elections, and government furloughs? None of that was caused by the state's size. The problem was a relatively far-right Republican caucus in the legislature that could bank on the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget to extract concessions from the majority Democrats (that's not to blame the GOP: It was the best strategy they had with the seats they controlled). Now that the state has lowered the budget passage threshold to a simple majority and elected a supermajority of Democrats, budgets are passed on time with lowered friction. This sort of pattern is true in other states as well. Texas is governed relatively smoothly and it's enormous.

2. California's size is actually an asset, not a weakness. By GDP, California is the world's eighth largest economy. We send the largest Congressional delegation in the country to Congress. Foreign heads of state come to hang out with our mayors and Lieutenant Governors. Big can be beautiful. More than ten percent of national military dollars flow into California. We picked up over $3 billion for that high speed rail that we're not even sure that we want. Even if we're a net donor state based on entitlement spending, few states do better than us on discretionary spending.

3. It Would Be a Total Pain to Split up the State. Water rights, air pollution targets under AB 32, responsibility for infrastructure like roads and bridge—all of that would be a huge mess to figure out in a Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Kramer divorce.

4. In the grand scheme, Draper's plan doesn't go far enough. If you really think size is the problem, and you're really committed to an out of the box solution, why have stated in the first place? Let's turn over those functions to the city or county level. Let's have 58 states, one for each California county. That'll be easier to govern! Paradoxically, Draper's proposal is both too crazy and not crazy enough.

5. You can't get away with giving the whole Bay Area the name Silicon Valley. The optics of that are just a total non-starter. Can you imagine what the Google Bus protestors would do?

So there you go. We've taken it seriously. Now let's just hope this idea doesn't get as far as Proposition 64.

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