Newest political survey shows the same old California conflict 

The notion that California’s governmental apparatus is endemically dysfunctional has evolved from a theory into an accepted fact over the last generation.

Governors and legislators cannot even balance the state budget, much less address crises in public education, transportation, water supply and other pithy issues that abound in a very large, very complex and very economically troubled state.

The malaise has become virtually a cottage industry as foundations, think tanks and academic consortia delve into our shortcomings and generate conferences, position papers and occasional reform proposals.

So far, reformers have persuaded voters to adopt two concrete changes — an independent redistricting commission and a “top two” primary election system that will take effect next year.

Several of the reform groups joined forces to create something called What’s Next California?

It assembled a cross-section of 400-plus California voters in Torrance, tested their attitudes on four issues, fed them position papers and other material, staged discussions, and then polled them again.

The “deliberative poll” was, in effect, a small-scale test of what a constitutional convention might encounter. Its results were released on Monday, and they were not surprising to anyone who has followed California’s political travails.

Voters are unhappy with the political status quo and want change, but aren’t certain what kind of change they want. They are very skeptical about paying more taxes, although they may be willing to impose more taxes on business.

If all of the changes that achieved majority support in the deliberative poll were to magically become law, they would have, at most, a very marginal effect on the Capitol’s chronic lack of efficacy.

So what’s next for our political reform industry?

The Think Long California organization, which is spending millions of billionaire Nicholas Berggruen’s dollars, will unveil its prescription later this year.

The Nicholas Berggruen Institute was a sponsor of What’s Next California? so the Think Long proposal may include some of the deliberative poll’s findings. But it likely will go further, including some big changes in the tax system that the poll didn’t support.

When we seek the root causes of California’s political dysfunction, we should look first in the mirror.

Collectively, we residents of this very diverse state really don’t know what we want.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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