Breaking California into three states is no longer just a kooky idea being pushed by one rich guy. Now it’s a kooky idea that millions of Californians will face on the ballot in November, with less than five months to study how such a profound change might fundamentally change their lives and fortunes.
The so-called Cal 3 proposition, authored and funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, qualified Tuesday for the November ballot. While not quite as extreme as Draper’s earlier Six Californias proposal (which failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the 2014 ballot), it still sounds like it must surely be a long shot.
But so did Brexit and the election of Donald Trump — and look how that turned out. Voters are in a surly, disruptive mood these days, and there’s just no telling what foolish thing they’ll do next.
Under Draper’s proposal, the state would be divided in three — creating “California,” “Southern California” and “Northern California.” So, OK, here’s one big benefit we can think of: Right now, 39.5 million of us are represented by two U.S. senators, meaning we have the same influence in that body as the 579,000 people in Wyoming. That’s fundamentally unfair. Under this plan, there’d be six senators representing us.
But beyond that, the advantages are unclear. In an email, Draper told The Times that a breakup will “get us better infrastructure, better education and lower taxes.” But he offered no proof. Indeed, it is impossible to say what these still-conceptual new states will or won’t do. Maybe they will support higher taxes or maybe they’ll cut school funding. How does Draper know?
Voters are in a surly, disruptive mood these days, and there’s just no telling what foolish thing they’ll do next.
What is guaranteed is tremendous upheaval and cost, at least in the short term, as three new governments are formed and then fight over how to split up the state’s shared assets — courts, water resources, bureaucracies, infrastructure, etc. — and its debts. A report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that all three states would be served by today’s State Water Project; that neither the prisons nor the public universities would be easily divided between the new states; and that income taxes would be concentrated in certain areas. You can bet that this would be tied up in legal challenges long before Congress had a chance to weigh in. The last time part of a state calved off from another was during the Civil War, when West Virginia left Virginia. The subsequent litigation wasn’t resolved for a half-century.
Even if Californians decide to go their separate ways, there’s no guarantee Congress would approve the establishment of the three states. Especially a Republican-controlled Congress (since it is not at all certain that any of the three could be counted on to vote GOP).
Is this really the path Californians want to take? They’d better be really sure before voting yes in November. Before seeking several new state birds and some new state flowers. Before requiring the U.S. to change its flag. Before doing away with the historic entity that is California — which, despite its size and its share of woes has done a pretty good job governing itself and setting a high standard for the country since it became a state in 1850.