Participation, performance and accountability: A reasonable approach to governing California

150 150 Michael Turnipseed

Published in the November 11 edition of Fox & Hounds Daily

As the state continues to struggle with chronic budget shortfalls and a sluggish economy, Californians are overwhelmed by a plethora of political solutions. These “solutions” do little to either restore faith in government or that can — or will — address the issues at hand; namely, greater accountability at all levels of government and improved outcomes of critical public programs that most directly impact performance, prosperity and productivity.

By now most Californians – politicians, business leaders and the public alike – have acknowledged the dysfunction that rules the state, a dysfunction directly related to the lack of accountability that stems from California’s state-down form of government.  That CAN and must be fixed. 

Like a business organization that must evolve and change with the marketplace, democratic government needs to be rethought and retooled to accommodate major shifts in population, the economy and technology if it is to be meaningful to and trusted by its citizenry.  This is perhaps our greatest challenge: structuring state government so Californians know whom to hold accountable for the success or failure of public programs and poor budgeting.

Because accountability has been lacking, California’s fragmented system of government hasn’t worked for at least a generation. The state has experienced serious declines in education, access to healthcare, economic growth, jobs and public safety. Essential services are delivered by local governments – counties, cities, school districts and special districts – but the state sets the rules for how local funds are used and implemented.  This institutional bifurcation results in public perception of poor or no leadership and accountability to no one. It’s a formula for failure.

As communities and regions throughout the state grow larger and more diverse, priorities shift and it no longer makes sense for a handful of lawmakers in Sacramento to unilaterally decide what’s best for the state. Results are frustrating. Trust in government continues to erode. The cost of government increases, while revenue and services decline, and we are forced to choose between the very elements that made California a good place to live or go elsewhere to make a good living.

The Government Performance and Accountability Act (GPAA) seeks to make government at all levels more accountable by encouraging local governments and agencies to work together and find meaningful, fiscally responsible solutions to social problems.   It doesn’t raise taxes; it doesn’t tell the state how to run its schools, prisons and social programs; nor does it create more red tape or a bigger bureaucracy.

What is does do is provide a framework that brings government closer to the people and thus accountable to the people. It gives local government more responsibility and authority both for public planning and budgeting at the level where social and economic programs have the most immediate and dramatic impact, and leadership can be held directly responsible for its policies and performance. Just as critical, The GPAA provides specific safeguards and controls to assure local and legislative responsibility, feasibility and accountability.   In other words, performance that’s stable, dependable and reliable.

By keeping government at all levels accountable, we can begin to turn around the dysfunction and inefficiencies that have come to be equated with our failing government system.

Michael Turnipseed is executive director of the Kern County Taxpayers Association and a CA Fwd Forward Thinker.


Michael Turnipseed

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