May 20, 2009

Worst-governed state?

A few thoughts on the budget catastrophe that California is facing:

  • Before voters imposed a supermajority requirement for crafting a budget several years ago, California's political system was broken. Voters approved Prop. 98 to guarantee a slice of general revenues going to K-12 and community colleges for a reason, even if the rigidity was not well thought through.
  • The "fix" of a supermajority and the elimination of nominal deficits several years ago didn't work.
  • The "fix" proposed on yesterday's ballot was an awful mess, because it refused to face the central problems. Nonetheless, the ballot measures would have been better than what California now faces.
  • Don't expect the problems to be solved anytime in the near future.

The fallout--an additional gap that has to be filled with taxes (not going to happen with the supermajority requirement) or cuts--is going to devastate a number of schools and colleges, and while I thought I was in the least governable state in the union, I have now seen the Florida legislature act at least a little more rationally than other major political actors in various states. South Carolina's governor, both political branches in California, Nevada's governor, and Arizona's legislature are among the actors who have outdone Florida for destruction in the name of political expediency, and that's hard to do (and comes after I exclude the notable folks who were shooed out of office because of scandal rather than mismanagement). But I have a single person's perspective, so maybe there's a contest we can have about the worst-governed state in the country. I wish I could suggest criteria, but there's a wealth to choose from, and maybe we should have different parts of the contest, sort of like there's the talent competition, etc., for beauty pageants:

  • Duct-tape governance competition--the state with the worst constitution, that is impossible to change, too easy to change, warped, inviting conflicts of interest, etc. Alabama and California are probably going to vie for this one.
  • Ostrich-impersonation competition--states where politicians are the best at sticking their heads in the sand to avoid uncomfortable choices. Florida's going to place highly in this one.
  • Lotus-growing competition--similar to ostriches, except that everyone points to the obvious problems and somehow argue that lotuses grow out of them, interpreting a dungheap as a site for beauty instead. Florida's hydra-like higher-education system, where every community-college president dreams of running a four-year college with a "leadership institute," is my nominee, but I'm sure you can figure out others. 
  • Mushroom-feeding competition--the state with the worst "keep everyone in the dark and feed them ****" decision-making.
  • Mushroom-eating competition--the state where politicians are the best at delusions about the future.
  • Dollar-grab competition--politicians that (would) do their best at shamelessly grabbing someone else's money in a transparent box even if they knew they'd be watched the whole time. I'll put my bets on Illinois or New Jersey, but Florida's got a shot at this one, too, with its former Speaker of the House.

Put nominations for each competition in comments!

Listen to this article
Posted in Education policy on May 20, 2009 8:35 AM |