So, OK, most people are aware that California is facing a major budget deficit that, unless something is done, will most likely result in the state declaring bankruptcy some time within the next couple of months. Faced with this problem, the governor and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have been batting possible solutions back and forth for months, with virtually nothing to show for it. About the only thing all the players have in common is the assertion that they are not the problem — it’s the other players that are messing things up.
Ironically, each side’s proposals — the governor’s and both sides of the legislature’s — would probably work as a budget. The problem is that each one would cause results that are unacceptable to at least one of the other players. There’s a simple solution to this problem — at least in principle: divide the state in half and let each half design a budget to its liking.
This isn’t perhaps as far-fetched as it sounds at first hearing. There has long been discussion about splitting California. Not only are we by far the most populous state — meaning that we’re seriously underrepresented in the U.S. Senate — but we’re also tremendously diverse. One look at a county-by-county electoral map for almost any recent controversial election shows that we’re a state that is already highly split politically. In essence, we’re a Red State and Blue State locked together at Sacramento.
If those two “protostates” were split apart, each could, I’m sure, easily craft a budget that would hold together. The Red State (let’s call it Fornia) would keep its taxes low and reduce government services to fit. Sure, there’d be no healthcare, highways, or other public infrastructure and those less well-off would get screwed, but their situation would be no worse than that of residents in other red states like Mississippi. The Blue State (obviously, it’s called Cali) would have considerably higher taxes, but also more government services. Yes, some high-income residents and businesses might leave that state, but, again, states like Massachusetts and New York seem able to retain businesses and high-income residents in spite of having high taxes. The important thing is that each state could quickly and easily reach an overall agreement on how to craft its budget. As to how to make the split, it seems to me that two constitutional conventions could be called: one for Cali and one for Fornia. Each county in California would vote by plebiscite on which convention its delegates would attend. Fornia’s constitution would include provisions making it very hard to raise taxes. Cali’s constitution, conversely, would provide stronger guarantees for economic rights such as heathcare and education. Counties would then vote, again by plebiscite, on which state to join. Admittedly, a county-by-county choice would be less than perfect. Some counties are, in themselves, split between “red” and “blue” segments. There could also be difficulties if “island” counties resulted. The most obvious one I can see is that the area around Lake Tahoe often votes with the “blue” protostate, but it’s surrounded by “red” counties. Still, I think some solution could be found. (Here’s a map [Courtesy of the LA Times] of the breakdown of the 2008 presidential election results. It will give you a feel for how California might split by county.)
There would, of course, be other messy details to be worked out as well. One “biggie” would be the State Water Project. A lot of its components would likely be in Fornia, but it serves LA and surrounding areas, which would almost certainly be in Cali. The split would have to include protections for both sides and a long-term agreement on the future funding of what would become a two-state joint powers authority. We already do this with other interstate issues such as Lake Tahoe and the Colorado River.
Perhaps a messier problem, politically, would be the change in the U.S. Senate. Right now, California has two Democratic senators. There’s little question that Fornia’s senators would both be Republican (unless one seat was won by a libertarian). The current congressional leadership would be unlikely to accept that. Perhaps a solution along the lines of the Missouri Compromise could be crafted. For example, the California split could be coupled to giving D.C. statehood. Then, both Democrats and Republican would get two extra senate seats.
Of course, this solution would not save California from the bankruptcy looming ahead, but it may be that the current financial crisis will do what hasn’t been possible so far, serve as a catalyst to cause the emergence of two new states.
Addendum as of 5-23-09
Here’s a link to another blog with a similar analysis, but suggesting splitting California into four states instead of two.
I think there are a few problems with where he proposes to split things. The North Coast counties (execept possibly Del Norte) fit better politically with the Bay Area than they do with the Central Valley, and LA probably fits better with the coastal counties up through San Luis Obispo than being isolated as its own state. The basic idea, however — creating more politically homogenious population groupings — is the same.