Why Monterey would be a cool capital
California’s elected leaders are sweating out another summer of budget stalemate. Temporary state workers are hot under the collar after losing their jobs, and the permanent employees may see their paychecks cut. Commentators are heatedly blasting the lack of a budget and recycling old ideas about how to change the state’s budget process, none of them politically viable.
What better way to lower the budget heat than to relocate state elected leaders to someplace cool?
California is a big state, and there’s no particular reason that legislators have to gather and negotiate a budget in hot and humid Sacramento. So here’s a budget reform that should have no trouble winning the support of two-thirds of the Legislature. Let’s move the Legislature and governor out of Sacramento and give the state a new capital.
This would represent a return to the state’s glorious past. Monterey was California’s first capital and the place where the first state Constitution was drawn up. In that spirit, reestablishing the capital there would offer the state a change of scenery that might spark the kind of top-to-bottom reinvention of state government that everyone thinks we need but no one has been able to deliver.
Monterey also has a practical advantage: the weather. Summertime highs there are about 20 degrees cooler on average than the temperatures in Sacramento. Even in the midst of a budget crisis, the governor and top Democratic legislators -- all from cooler coastal counties -- have spent much of this summer outside Sacramento. Perhaps they’d stick around and negotiate if the weather were better.
Who could object to such a switch?
Well, state bean counters might worry that the peninsula’s expensive land could make a move costly. But the state controls most of a huge piece of land on the Monterey Peninsula -- the former Ft. Ord, much of which is being transformed into a state university, Cal State Monterey Bay. (If a governor were to grow impatient with the pace of talks, he could have lawmakers confined to some of the old Army housing on the site. The media could call them the Budget Barracks.)
Citizens and lawmakers might point out that Monterey, with only 40 flights a day, is a difficult place to get to by air. But that could be helpful to budget talks by keeping lawmakers in town. Old legislative sages such as Willie Brown are always talking about how legislators of different parties don’t socialize anymore. Unable to leave easily, they would spend more time with each other.
If the Legislature were to approve a move to Monterey quickly, it might help solve this year’s $15-billion- plus budget shortfall. The prospect of an empty Capitol building in Sacramento would represent an enormous opportunity for a cash-strapped state. The state could sign a long lease with a university or a mixed-use developer -- and then borrow against those future lease payments to produce some revenues for the new fiscal year.
Naysayers might argue that by moving to Monterey, the state’s leaders would be merely running from their problems or employing another gimmick -- like borrowing against lottery funds -- to avoid politically difficult decisions.
Maybe so. But if Monterey doesn’t produce bipartisan agreement, there would be other options for solving the perpetual budget crisis.
Like Santa Barbara.
Joe Mathews is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a contributing editor to The Times’ Opinion pages.