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Local Governance: Unlocking Realignment

Efforts to reform California’s governing system often focus on one or two ideas that can be turned into ballot initiatives. Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s Think Long Committee was different. Members agreed on a broader approach – offering a series of integrated proposals in seven major areas with the goal of designing a new governing system. Here are highlights of those recommendations, and how they fell a little short of hopes in squaring Sacramento's needs with those of local governments.
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THE ISSUE: California’s system is centralized, with many decisions, particularly on spending and taxes, made at the state level rather than at local levels.

THE BACKSTORY: Much of Think Long’s work took place during Gov. Jerry Brown’s first year in office. Brown’s signature reform policy was called “realignment,” the term for his attempt to shift some responsibility, and some money, for corrections from the state to the counties. This was in part a response to court orders requiring reductions in the state’s prison population, and in part an effort to save money, since the costs of housing people in county jails are less than housing them in state prisons.

California Issue

What is Think Long thinking?
The Think Long Committee developed specific recommendations for improving California's governance. Joe Mathews offers an in-depth look at seven specific areas afflicting the state, and what the reform organization proposed as remedies. The other six areas are:
Voter Initiatives
State Budget Deficit
Citizens' Council


The committee discussed realignment, and members were generally supportive. But the group stopped short of a specific endorsement of Brown’s plans. “While the committee embraces the principles of de-centralization, devolution and realignment of revenues and responsibilities, we have not endeavored to propose precisely how that should be accomplished,” it concluded.

THE PROPOSAL: The committee’s tax plans did seek to generate more money for localities and regions to determine their own destiny. The recommendations would send $1.5 billion of the additional $10 billion generated by the tax plan to counties to cover costs of public safety responsibilities that were part of the realignment, and another $1 billion to cities in block grants for their needs.