The American Constitution Society (ACS) Bay Area Lawyer Chapter enjoyed an engaging participatory discussion co-sponsored and facilitated by California Forward. The forum was one of many in California Forward’s “Speak up, CA!” project, which aims to collect ideas from around the state in meetings with stakeholders from across the spectrum of our diverse state: farmers, government officials, business leaders, and, on March 15, lawyers.
California Forward’s Jessica Williams explained the genesis of the organization as a bipartisan project aimed at generating and advocating for solutions to California’s many challenges, including tremendous budget deficits, inadequate educational systems, and an expensive and inefficient criminal justice system. The discussion focused on one of CA Forward’s main policy suggestions: that power needs to be realigned from the state level to the local level, giving county and municipal governments more control and flexibility over spending priorities and distribution of services.
The group, made up primarily of public and private sector lawyers who have practiced in or on behalf of government entities, was generally skeptical of the idea of state-to-local realignment for one central reason: the difficulty of ensuring equitable distribution of baseline services to those most in need. Attendees voiced various reasons for this concern: 1) Local resources vary greatly depending on the tax base, 2) not all local officials have the best interests of the public at heart (see, e.g., the city of Bell), and 3) those with the greatest need for government services are usually not politically powerful.
That said, bringing government “closer to the people” by increasing accountability and simplifying people’s interaction with government services were concepts that were roundly embraced. Everyone agreed that simplifying the layers and complexity of certain government services and the many funding and regulatory sources that control their distribution would be a good thing. The means to achieve those ends, however, were not clear by the end of the very thought-provoking and lively discussion.
Dan Roth is on the Board of Directors of the ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter.