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Readers concur, 'Six Californias' don't add up

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SACRAMENTO—Judging by your emails, many readers agree with me that a proposed ballot measure to split California into six states is crazy. "Ridiculous." "Laughable."

Also, you concur that this bird will never fly.

Not only would the plan need to be approved by California voters, Congress and the president would have to sign off, too.

"Do you really think Democrats would ever allow anything to disrupt the 55-electoral-vote advantage they get every four years?" from California, reader Kurt wrote.

Very good point. California has been solid blue for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past six elections. Split the state six ways and perhaps half those electoral votes would turn Republican red.

And this from Todd: "The drawing of these lines will mean a huge boom in Republican U.S. Senators…which I probably don't want to share with GOP voters if this qualifies for the ballot. That's bad news from where this progressive Santa Monican sits."

Yes, by my calculation, the 12 senators produced by the new states very likely would be split half Democrat, half Republican. Today, both senators are Democrats.

Looking at voter registrations, three states—West California, Silicon Valley and North California—would favor Democrats. Three—South California, Central California and Jefferson—would side Republican.

Specifically, West California would include Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Silicon Valley: San Francisco, most of the Bay Area and Monterey County. North California: Marin County and the Napa-Sonoma wine country, east through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.

Color the rest red. South California: Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Central California: the San Joaquin Valley east to Nevada. Jefferson: thirteen small counties north to the Oregon line.

All this is the craftsmanship of super-rich Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has poured nearly $2 million into a signature-gathering drive to qualify his "Six Californias" initiative for the state ballot. He has until mid-May to turn in 808,000 valid voter signatures to place the proposition on the November ballot. He says he's "close."

Draper, registered independent of any party, contends that California is too big, too ungovernable and too insensitive to local problems. "These states have very, very different interests," he says.

"People in the far south are worried about immigration law. Silicon Valley has different immigration interests and wants a state more in touch with technology. Hollywood is concerned about copyright laws and retaining movie production. The [San Joaquin] Valley is worried about water and losing jobs. People up north are concerned about taxation without representation. It's all legitimate."

"The state needs a refresh," he concludes.

Not all the emailers—perhaps some with tongue in cheek—believe Draper is chasing a losing cause. One sees potential strong political support.

"There would be five more governorships and 10 more U.S. Senate seats available," Edward wrote. "There must be many politicians who realize that in the current California they have no chance of being a governor or a senator, but in one of the six states they might have a good chance."

Heck, after he's termed out in 2018 at age 80, Gov. Jerry Brown—already California's longest-serving governor ever—could keep on running in another state.

Reader Michael predicted that the California crackup would be approved by South California voters "because they think everyone in L.A. is nuts." It certainly would pass in Central California, he continued, "because we KNOW everyone else is nuts." And it would be endorsed in Silicon Valley "because they want to keep all the tax revenue from high wage earners for themselves."

Michael may be on to something, although he's overlooking an ugly truth about his proposed new state of Central California. It would be poorer than dirt—the poorest state in the nation, in fact, poorer even than Mississippi.

The legislative analyst's office conducted an in-depth study of Draper's proposal.

Basically, it found that splitting California six ways would greatly exacerbate the have and have-not regions, some bordering each other. Think California contrasted with Baja.

Silicon Valley would become the nation's richest state, with per capita personal income of $63,288—some $3,600 higher than Connecticut, according to the legislative analyst.

Central Californians, however, would have only half that personal income: $33,510. Jefferson would be in the same sinking boat: $36,147.

California's per capita income now is $46,477. Of the other new states, South and West California would be slightly below the current state average; North California slightly above.

These figures also are reflected in taxes paid, of course. The rich pay much higher taxes than the poor or even middle-class. That's true of all major taxes—income, sales, property.

And why does this matter? Because in California, the rich greatly subsidize government services provided to the poor. But the rich wouldn't if they lived in another state.

In other words, folks in the San Joaquin Valley and northern woods—although they may complain about high taxes—currently are benefiting from government services largely paid for by rich people living on the coast.

"It's difficult to imagine how these poor regions would raise their incomes," says Jason Sisney, the analyst who wrote the report. "And that has real consequences for how their public programs would be funded."

For example, he continues, "if you wanted to pay your teachers the same as they are now, and provide the same level of health and welfare services, you'd probably have to increase your tax rates."

That's not what people leaning toward secession in the San Joaquin Valley and northern mountains probably have in mind.

Wrote reader Ed: "Are there any more crazy ideas like this one?"

Certainly none as entertaining.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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