You Go Your Way, I'll Go Mine

Comments (6)

Newcomers to California barely get their bags unpacked when someone, somewhere, starts griping about how the state is so big or its citizens so disagreeable that we ought to just crack it up into smaller pieces and go our own separate ways.

Which brings us to the budget fight of the spring of 2011.

The current incarnation of the "we can't get along" saga was sparked, not surprisingly, by the budget crisis -- more precisely, about how to resolve the political standoff over spending cuts and taxes.

On Tuesday, Treasurer Bill Lockyer suggested in a chat with Bay Area journalists that perhaps legislative districts whose GOP representatives oppose additional tax dollars for government spending should bear the brunt of cuts themselves.

"The people who want less government ought to be at the front of that line to get less government," said Lockyer as quoted as saying.

Lockyer is not the first Democrat to opine on the subject this year, but is the first prominent Dem to do so publicly. And that, unsurprisingly, has lighted a blaze of back-and-forth banter on the subject for the better part of this week.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, asked by a reporter to comment after an unrelated speech to the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday, basically rejected the idea (wouldn't be fair to programs that serve needy kids, he said, which would probably keep education and social services off limits and thus be the lion's share of the cuts). But he left the door ajar just far enough for the press and GOP critics to run with it.

"When it comes to basic services, convenience services" the Senate leader said, "you know, I have an open mind."

GOP blogger Jon Fleischman then penned a column that said Republican resolve would only strengthen if district-by-district cuts came along. And some went even further; Sacramento talk show host Eric Hogue began tweeting about Dems wanting 58 separate provinces, later putting it this way:

Better idea for Steinberg: Each district keeps its own tax revenue, no more Placer County paying for SF County government; deal?

Ah... the issue of splitting things up. Hello, old friend.

Siskiyou County Historical Society

While talk of carving up the Golden State is occasionally linked these days to discussions that California has become "ungovernable," the idea stretches much farther back into the history books. My favorite (perhaps because I wrote about it as a graduate journalism student eons ago) was the 1941 quest by northern California and southern Oregon counties to secede from their respective states and create a 51st state known as Jefferson. Their effort culminated in a big celebration on December 4, 1941 and drew newsreel reporters to chronicle the moment. But by the time those images were processed and ready to be blast to the nation... well, bigger news came about. Jefferson, these days, is often called a "state of mind" up in the north country of California.

In the early 1990s, then Republican assemblymember Stan Statham authored bills to make either two or three separate states -- with the latter creating a North, Central, and South California. While getting lots of headlines, the idea was a non-starter legislatively and, later, as an advisory ballot measure. In 2009, another ex-GOP assemblymember, Bill Maze, unsuccessfully pushed an initiative to split California into inland and coastal states (though the "red" California would've gotten to keep San Diego, natch). In all, historians say there have been more than two dozen formal contemplations of cutting the state up.

Of course, that's not quite the topic this time around; but regional differences and fights are a key element of the recent budget crisis. Last August, my colleague Scott Shafer reported on data that showed Democratic areas often send tax dollars, via services, to Republican areas. (One graphic of the data is here.)

And the inherent conflict -- one that's often not just about political party -- is well known by the guy in the corner office. In fact, the best quip on the subject may be the one Governor Jerry Brown made before he won a third term, in a chat with reporters at last year's state Democratic party convention.

"It works much easier if the Bakersfieldians decide their own issues and the San Franciscans also decide theirs," said Brown. "If I could quote the papal principle of subsidiarity, you want the smallest institution to deal with the problem that can most competently handle it."

This week's chatter likely doesn't move the ball down the field towards an omnibus budget deal in 2011. But it does remind us that California's rich diversity has both upsides... and downsides.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • RT

    While this will not happen, hopefully due to cooler heads prevailing or as the result of counties suing the State, maybe the Democrats can convince Brown that as they have the power to do as they will, maybe they should just extend the taxes by legislation.

  • Reilleyfam

    The idea that these GOP ghettos bring in even a fraction of the tax revenue of places such as LA, SF, Oakland is a joke. If the GOP wants to split up tax revenue by county that’s fine. No more SF supporting Placer County. I say gut the GOP districts and let their knuckle-dragging constituents feel the reality of what they are proposing & see how willing they are to pay a few pennies more a year in tax.

  • Hank

    I lived in Butte County at the time of the advisory vote in 1993. It was VERY popular up there at the time. The graphic on taxes is misleading because it only shows two of the three major tax streams. Its missing property tax revenue. I do believe the Governor is correct though. If Bakersfieldians (Kern County) had to deal with their own revenue issues by themselves the extraction tax would have been passed 90 years ago.

  • jskdn

    How about having San Francisco send the state, for funding schools, a share the 1% property tax rate, a rate set by Prop 13 but allocated by the the legislature, that is equal to what the average is of all the other counties in the state send? Why don’t you report on how much money San Francisco keeps for local spending by paying a smaller share of the 1% property tax rate than all most all other counties in the state?

  • hello

    I am actually quite curious to know how much tax money Republican districts are raking in as a result of Three Strikes, etc. in the form of prison construction and guards salaries, etc. Because you see, I think the easiest and most common-sense way to cut would be to cut on our prison costs. I think we ought to let more low-level offenders out and thereby reduce the number of prisoners (and the number of over-paid guards).

  • Kimberly

    To Hello. More and more prisons are “privatized”, and the money goes to for profit businesses. Do you think those private businesses are going to give up that revenue?