(CN) – If one California is great, might three be better? Probably not, opponents of a voter-sponsored initiative to divide the state told members of the Legislature during an informational hearing Wednesday.
Loren Kaye, president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, called the California Three States Initiative “disingenuous, distracting and dangerous.” The foundation is a think tank affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce, and its board voted to oppose the initiative in May.
Sponsor and proponent of the initiative Timothy Draper, a venture capitalist who founded the tech company involved in the success of Hotmail and Skype, declined an invitation to attend, a point hammered home by Assembly Judiciary Committee chair Mark Stone.
“It’s too bad, I’m not quite sure why they proposed the measure and spent all that money to gather signatures and refused to be here to be able to talk about it,” Stone said. “To not have a proponent here is frustrating, and in my view, a little bit surprising.”
The initiative got the OK for signature-gathering from the California Secretary of State in October 2017 and reportedly collected 600,000 signatures by April 2018, surpassing the 365,880 signatures required to qualify for the 2018 ballot. California counties have until June 3, 2018, to verify the validity of the signatures.
Proponents say California ranks near the bottom of all states in education, has the highest taxes, some of the worst roads and the most overcrowded prisons – symptoms of what they see as a political system that’s out of touch with many residents.
“The closer you get to government, the better it’s going to be,” Draper said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in April. “When you have all the power delegated to someone very distant, it creates a problem.”
Draper did not respond to email requests for comment.
While both Stone and state Sen. Bill Dodd, chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, are against the measure, both have voted for bills to bring government closer to the people. Both supported a bill in 2015 that largely ended centralized control of education finance and replaced it with the Local Control Funding Formula, a plan intended to include more input from residents to better tailor public education to the specific – and very different – needs of the state’s geographically and economically diverse residents.
The California Three States Initiative proposes separating the state into Northern California, encompassing counties from the Oregon border to Santa Cruz. Southern California would extend from the U.S.-Mexico border and contain most of the Central Valley. The final piece, called simply California, would encompass the coastal cities in the Los Angeles area north of Orange County.
Opponents find few solutions to California’s issues in breaking the state apart.
“Obviously we have many problems. If you are sincerely committed to fixing any of these problems, fix the problem,” Kaye explained. “Division into three states makes our problems objectively worse.”
Kaye told committee members that in the event the initiative passes and is approved by Congress – a requirement – the original state of California would be responsible for holding constitutional conventions for the three new states, and that would be just the start of the complex issues.
“The challenges are daunting to say the least,” Kaye said. “Of course, the state would have to defend against vigorous litigation on the validity of the measure. Each of the three states would become a start-up venture, just to get the structure in place.”
Kaye said that changes to the California State University and University of California systems as a result of the split could mean up to $2 billion in out-of-state tuition costs to students. Also at issue are water rights, as most of the state’s water exists in the north part of the state. Dozens of other issues would arise as a result.
Even if voters approve the law, Congress could decline, accept or change the way the state is divided and send it back to Californians for another vote.
While certainly a long shot, four states – Kentucky, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia – have been created by splitting existing states in our nation’s history according to Ann Hollingshead, senior fiscal director of the Legislative Analyst Office.
“In each of the four historical examples, the legislative body was the body that provided that approval and there is no clear precedent that says the voters can provide that approval,” Hollingshead said.
The last split occurred in 1863 during the Civil War, when West Virginia split from Virginia and joined the Union.
“California’s initiative process allows voters some, but not all, of the powers of the Legislature,” she continued. “Courts have found that voters do not have the power to advise the U.S. Congress through the initiative process.”
Hollingshead said these are questions courts would have to answer before any change to the boundaries of California happens.