It's become a truism that California is ungovernable. Caps on property taxes that limit revenue, ballot-box initiatives that encourage spending, and the requirement of a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes or pass a budget all contribute to dysfunctional state government. It's also been said that California is the trendsetter, defining the fads and fashions that spread across America and the world. Put the two together and is it any real surprise that the first hints of ungovernability are beginning to appear on Richardson's horizon, too?
The 2009-2011 Richardson City Council has many accomplishments that it can tout. It delivered on its promises of televised council meetings, an online city checkbook and a code of ethics for the council. It proposed and voters approved a bond package for much needed capital improvements to streets, neighborhoods, city buildings and parks and recreation centers. It moved forward on the redevelopment of the West Spring Valley corridor and the development of the land around the Bush DART Station.
So what's left for the 2011-2013 city council to do? Judging by what was said at a recent candidates forum, it's likely that a city charter review is going to command the attention of the council and the city for the next two years. What the city's critics have been unable to achieve through representative government (all their candidates lost in the 2009 council elections), they will try to achieve by shackling future city councils with restrictions in a new city charter. Will it make Richardson ungovernable? The future will tell. Let's just say it's likely to make the city less governable.
By the way, California's ungovernability may reach Washington, DC, too, if the GOP ever gains complete control of the government. All 47 Republican Senators have signed on to a newly drafted Balanced Budget Amendment that seeks to shackle our federal government's flexibility. It requires that Congress pass a balanced budget each year, but adds a requirement for two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress to pass tax increases, thus making it harder to actually balance the budget. It caps total federal spending at 18% of GDP, a restriction that would have made unconstitutional every budget during the Bush administration (either Bush II or Bush I) and every budget during the Reagan administration. Even the draconian budget plan introduced this week by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which eliminates Medicare and slashes Medicaid, would be unconstitutional under this amendment. That's right, all 47 GOP Senators are on record calling for an amendment that would make Rep. Ryan's budget unconstitutional. No exceptions are made for recessions, when GDP drops and spending on unemployment benefits and Medicaid rise. Instead, the Balanced Budget Amendment would force the government to contract with a slump in the business cycle, thus worsening recessions. And when Congress is unable to pass a balanced budget (remember that two-thirds majority requirement to raise taxes), the budget gets tossed to the courts, where judicial activism will be taken to a whole new level.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post calls this the worst idea in Washington. The kinds of things the critics of Richardson city government will try to get into a new Richardson City Charter can't possibly sink to the level of the worst idea in Washington, can they? Can they? Who knows what will come out once Pandora's Box is opened.