The Economist thinks venture capitalist Tim Draper’s effort to split California into six states is a bit of a farce. It notes the Golden State’s disparate population and ungovernable number of cities and media markets, but facts are facts: Even if Draper can collect the 807,615 signatures needed to put the question before voters, it will never make it past the California legislature, let alone Congress. And even if it did, partition would be a nightmare:
No one would reconstitute California in its current form if starting from scratch. But unravelling the creation would be immeasurably more painful than dealing with its flaws. Handling water rights is difficult enough within the state, as the current drought has made clear; allocating the stuff across new boundaries would be nightmarish. It is far from clear how the state’s liabilities, particularly pensions, would be redistributed. Mr Draper says internal polls show that his proposal is most popular among California’s poorer regions, but they would quickly lose their appetite for secession if the tax spigot from the Bay Area were shut off. Mr Draper’s plan to appoint bureaucrats to thrash out these issues is less than convincing. […]Proper regional government would be better. Some parts of California already do a decent job running things like transport and air quality across county lines. But deeper devolution would be hard. Local tax-raising powers are seriously limited by Prop 13, which no one will touch. Jerry Brown, California’s governor, wants to make “subsidiarity” his signature theme, but it remains to be seen how far he will go. And California’s powerful public-sector unions will be loth to give up the huge statewide influence they enjoy. For many in the state, big is still beautiful.
These are legitimate concerns, but we don’t think they’re enough to condemn the idea to the trash heap. For one, autonomy from the Bay Area cash cow might not be quite the disaster for California’s poorer regions that the Economist assumes; it’s primarily in poor regions that vast amounts of shale energy remains untapped. The costs of separation from the Bay Area tax spigot might be offset by the benefits of separation from Bay Area voters who insist that a wealth of brown jobs (as in North Dakota) aren’t worth the environmental threats of fracking.No doubt water, pension liabilities and Democrats (who would let this happen over their dead bodies) pose seemingly insurmountable obstacles to partition. But this is a reform movement we hope gains steam over time. The competing interests and priorities of California’s unmanageable, schismatic population are bad for democracy and bad for Californians.