Bored CA Billionaire Groups Merge

JAN. 28, 2012

“Think Forward and Long” or “Think Long and Forward California.” I suggest one of those as the new name for the merging government reform groups California Forward and Think Long.  Because the ridiculousness of the name should be as ridiculous as the hailed move.

This is what former politicians do who can’t go back to the private sector once they leave public office. Couple the attention-starved politicians with bored billionaires and you get groups like the Think Long Committee and California Forward.

The Think Long Committee boasted reforms to deal with the estimated $13 billion state budget shortfall and looming $2 billion automatic trigger cuts to education.

Under The Cover Of Taxes

But many of the pseudo-reformers, who already had a shot at fixing the state’s chronic budget problems, never quite got around to sincerely addressing the actual problems in state government. Instead, the two groups came up with rhetoric-laced, lofty sounding big-budget plans, to be run by lots of paid consultants, benefitting people like the “reformers.”

It has been business-as-usual in the Capitol, with lawmakers continuing to overspend, create more regulations, scheme on ways to weasel more taxes out of the middle-class “rich” and foster incestuous relationships with labor unions. Meanwhile, the Think Long Committee released its “Blueprint to Renew California” in November. Short on substance and devoid of any big reforms, the “Blueprint” was primarily cover for a new sales tax on every service in California not already taxed — excluding education and health care.

Haircuts would be taxed. Lawyers, accountants, landscapers, contractors, veterinarians, day care and many other everyday services would be taxed.

Who’s Who

The lineup of the two groups is a who’s-who of Capitol politicians who apparently just didn’t get enough of the place while in power: Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown; recalled Gov. Gray Davis and his replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sunne Wright McPeak, former Contra Costa supervisor and former secretary of the California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency; another former Assembly Speaker, Fred Keeley;  former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson; and another former assembly speaker, Bob Hertzberg.

These politicians joined forces with billionaire financier Nicolas Berggruen; union boss Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO; and ueber-wealthy foundations such as the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

According to the Nicolas Berggruen Institute website, “the Think Long Committee for California aims to offer a comprehensive approach for repairing and renovating California’s broken system of governance while proposing policies and institutions vital for the state’s long term future.”

Beware the word “comprehensive” when used in the same sentence with “governance.”

California Forward proposed the Government Performance and Accountability Act, “a constitutional amendment that would change the culture of governance in California,” ultimately taking it out of the hands of the governor and legislators. “The state is simply too big and too diverse to let a handful of lawmakers in Sacramento make decisions about local programs and resources that are much better understood at the community level,” the California Forward’s website said.

The long and forward thinkers talked incessantly of taking reforms to the voters through the initiative process. But, remember, it is important it is to watch what people do instead of just believing what they say.

Fourth Branch of Government

California Forward tried to “change the culture of governance in California.” The Think Long Committee really wanted to create an elitist “Citizen’s Council for Government Accountability,” which some have described as a “fourth branch of government for California.”

Acting more like a Super-Committee, the Council would be made up of 13 members appointed to six-year terms by the governor and the leaders of both parties in the legislature. They would have the power to place constitutional amendments (constitutional measures) as well as proposed laws (statutory measures) on the ballot, with no legislative vetting or signature gathering required.

Wow. Welcome to an attempt at a California oligarchy, in which political power would be held by the wealthy elite and political class, who would use this power to serve their own class interests.

Voters will need to think long and hard about what’s ahead for the state. While the Think Long Committee scrapped its own tax initiative planned for the November ballot, the group has joined the initiative sponsored by California Forward to change how the state is governed, and how the budget is written.

There are problems in paradise. Almost everyone can agree that California is showing signs of sun damage and aging. The thin, beautiful veneer is cracking.

The best thing to do is to use the system we have to defeat these types of measures.  Unions and billionaires don’t have to dominate politics. There are still many more of us than them.

Katy Grimes

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