LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: A letter addressed to the next governor of California

October 30, 2010

Editor's note: On the eve of the recall election that swept Arnold Schwarzenegger into office seven years ago, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg penned a memo to the new governor for these pages. With Californians about to choose a new leader, he's once again offering his thoughts about getting our state back on track.

DEAR Governor-elect:

How the world has changed in seven short years. When I last wrote a new governor, Barack Obama was a little-known state senator and California's economy was larger than China's.

Back in 2003, there were no iPhones, no iPads, no Twitter and no flat-screen televisions. The incorporation of Facebook was still months away.

Literally, we live in a different world than most of us ever imagined, and the rate of change has only increased over the years. People, families and businesses are learning to adapt. What about government?

It won't show up as a line item on the state's budget or as a bill placed on your desk, but I would submit that the biggest challenge you face is to fundamentally rethink the way we Californians govern ourselves in this new, uncertain and ever-changing age.

Why? Because at the root of our troubles lies an outdated system of governance that produces little more than partisan gridlock, bigger deficits, public frustration and a diminished future for every one of us.

Across California, people of goodwill are working on this problem. I serve as co-chair with Tom McKernan of California Forward, the state's leading nonpartisan reform organization. We're engaged in a statewide outreach effort to involve people from every community in California in the discussion of how common-sense reform can lead to better results.

And just last week, I had the honor of being included among a group of distinguished Californians who deeply care about the future of our state and who have come together with the Nicolas Berggruen Institute in creating the "Think Long Committee." This new effort will examine ways to make sure a government established in the 18th century can meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

I'm excited that these serious efforts have a good chance to produce huge dividends for our state over the long term. But you've got to govern now. So consider this advice in the spirit it is offered - with a dose of humility. I'm just one more Californian who loves his state and wants to see it on top again:

1. Don't take a victory lap. The people of California want you to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

2. Confidence is key. It's gut-check time in California. Where once we aspired to build a society that matched our magnificent landscape, we now have mountains of debt, 2 million workers without jobs, failing schools and an outdated, crumbling infrastructure. The voters who elected you - as well as those who voted for someone else - need to know you believe we can chart a new course.

3. Don't just talk about "tax reform," do it. Our tax system is built for yesterday's California, not the economic realities of today. It's time to craft a 21st century tax policy that reflects our current economy, and diversify revenue sources away from our over-reliance on the wildly fluctuating income tax.

Last year, the bipartisan Commission on the 21st Century Economy proposed overhauling the tax structure, including reductions in personal income tax rates, elimination of the state sales tax, a net receipts tax on all business activity exempting small businesses and a new tax dispute forum. The plan needs broader discussion, study and debate, but the broad strokes of a modern system are there - there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

4. Think big about reform. Democracy was made to be deliberative, a cure to the unchecked power of despots and dictators. Businesses reinvent themselves every 18 months if they have to, but we're stuck in a government paradigm that has been the same since our state constitution was signed.

It is time to seriously ask how we keep the genius of democracy while retooling our systems of government to act with the speed necessary in this global age. Perhaps we need a stronger top executive, or even a new, more modern unicameral legislature - with 120 lawmakers representing much smaller districts, but speaking with a more unified voice.

5. Pay as you go. The cupboard is bare. Make it clear to every lobbyist and lawmaker, no bills with major new costs get signed unless they include a way to pay for them, from the start and over the long term. And it's time to apply the same discipline to the initiative process as well.

6. Move government closer to the people. For every $10 in state tax, $7 is administered locally by cities and counties - who've come to depend on Sacramento to fund even the most basic services. As a result, we've shifted authority to the state Capitol as well - away from voters. Returning secure sources of revenue to local governments, and giving communities the power to set priorities and local tax levels, provides them more control over their own destinies. Proposition 13 moved money and authority to Sacramento. It's time to move it back.

7. Fix our public pension systems. I'm a Democrat. I believe that people who put in years of hard work deserve a secure retirement. We must keep faith with current workers and retirees, but changes have to be made for new employees. We can't afford six-figure pensions for early retirees - it's simply not fair to the rest of the hard-working people helping to pay the bill.

8. Create a stable source of funding for the UC system. Other leading universities across the country create strong partnerships between their researchers and the R&D shops of businesses, and as a result reap a share of the profits, equity and royalties for new products. This is California's modern gold mine - and it is largely untapped. These funds can and should be dedicated to the University of California campuses, reinvesting in the future source of our state's intellectual capital.

9. Bring back bipartisanship. A corrosive idea has taken hold in Sacramento that the "other" party can never have a good idea. Not true. Next week meet with legislative leadership from both parties. Help state government become the home of all dedicated, intelligent and thoughtful people eager to work together, regardless of party. You can't govern California from the blue or the red, and it's not just about becoming "purple." Create an entirely new color - one of your own.

I am excited. You represent a fresh start, a chance to - borrowing a bit of wisdom I overheard this past week in the Silicon Valley - reboot our government. These opportunities don't come along every day. Let's take advantage of it. Let's be California again!

Bob Hertzberg is a former Assembly speaker representing the San Fernando Valley. He is co-chair of California Forward, a nonpartisan reform group.

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