Governing the Golden State: A Critical Path to Improve Performance and Restore Trust
September 07, 2004
Governing the Golden State
Governing the Golden State A Critical Path to Improve Performance and Restore Trust
Little Hoover Commission,July 2004
The conclusion infers that California is on a steady, unstoppable slide toward economic, social and civic decline, and that individual Californians will survive or prosper despite the efforts of government, not with the assistance of government.
That assertion is untenable.
The fiscal crisis, now in its fourth year, has elevated both concerns – intransigent problems and the leadership imperative – to a fateful point in time. And while a recovering economy will in part ease the budget woes, it will not by itself improve the performance of public policies and programs that are essential to the quality of life or the ability to economically compete and prosper.
California's traffic congestion and air quality are among the worst in the nation – which is not news, but must be resolved.
California fourth-graders are ranked 46 th in the percentage of students with basic math and 47 th in basic reading skills. Eighth-graders rank 46 th in basic math and 49 th in basic reading skill levels. California ranks 42 nd in its high school completion rate. Clearly, large numbers of immigrants increase the challenge for educators, but California simply cannot thrive in a global economy with bad educational outcomes.
While crime has declined across the nation, California still has more than its share of violence. The State ranks 24 th in the nation for overall crime and 41 st for violent crime. 1 California has among the highest rates of illegal drug use in the nation. And the State's parole system has one of the lowest success rates in the nation, with two out of three parolees returning to prison. In 1980, it was only one out of four. 2 2
Over the years there have been multiple efforts to address the structural issues, often with blue-ribbon commissions. But for discernable reasons
In this project, the Commission examined those efforts to assess how California leaders could more successfully resolve these issues. With the benefit of hindsight, much of it offered by those who were involved in these efforts, one can discern how to approach complex and contentious issues that should be solved through public and democratic means. In this report, the Commission uses those hard-learned lessons to define a critical path, a process that if followed would enable the leadership of California government to achieve a permanently balanced budget while delivering the highest quality public services at an affordable cost.
Why Previous Efforts Fell Short The challenges of the legislative process and the apparent futility of blue ribbon task forces are a frequent topic in and around the Capitol. A close look at how reform efforts have been approached reveals some fairly obvious weaknesses. Among them:
The Necessary Elements Developing sound solutions that can be widely supported requires a combination of analytical capacity and political skill. Reformers must have the political sponsorship to get the right stakeholders to the table and clear direction to solve specific problems. The process itself must be framed with integrity – via meaningful involvement of the public and civic leaders, good faith negotiation to resolve differences, and the courage to stand by agreements.
The Commission identified eight essential steps that a reform process should follow to do this:
1. Recognize and define the problem and set the reform goal. The Governor, Legislature and other elected leaders must formally agree on the problem that needs
2. Create a structure for success. The reform process could be managed by the executive branch, or a collaboration of executive and legislative resources or regional and local leaders. A State Executive Council could be established to define statewide issues, help to define specific goals for reform and acceptable solutions, and facilitate agreements at the local and regional level.
3. Establish the parameters of an acceptable solution. The Governor and the Legislative leaders should validate or amend the problem and validate the scope and schedule for work by formally establishing the parameters of an acceptable solution.
acknowledge agreements and establish ground rules.
Public Involvement. Educate and engage the public in identifying problems and solutions. Inclusiveness. Identify and include all stakeholders throughout the process.
Commitment. Commit to reform and prioritize the goal. Participants in the process must obtain agreement and a commitment from constituents.
Timeliness. Accomplish reforms while there is consensus on the need for reform. Establish a timeline for the reform process and the implementation. 4
5. Validate and vet solutions. The Executive Council needs to make sure that the proposed solutions are technically sound and politically viable. The product at the end of this stage should be a technically sound solution that has a critical mass of solid support.
6. Enact the proposal. The Legislature needs to assess the proposal based on the established parameters and the support stated by interest groups throughout the process, and, if consistent with the parameters, enact it.
7. Implement and monitor reform. The Governor and the Legislature should support the implementing agencies by providing clear direction, adequate resources, and an effective means for communicating progress and making refinements to the plan.
8. Refine the reform as necessary. The Governor and the Legislature should periodically assess the need for refinements or the next generation of large-scale reform, and be willing to repeat all or part of the critical path to ensure progress toward desired goals.
This critical path is detailed on pages 27 to 29, and is graphically presented on pages 30 and 31.
The ultimate lesson embedded in this critical path is that fundamental reform is possible, provided that we commit ourselves and our resources to a process that values trust and transparency. The critical path could demonstrate that California is governable, as well as restore the faith and confidence of Californians in their government.
Speaker's Commission on State/Local Government Finance