Ken Masugi- Columnist
Ken Masugi is the Director of the Claremont Institute's Center
for Local Government.
Its purpose is to apply the principles of the American Founding
to the theory and practice of local government, the cradle
of American self-government. Dr. Masugi has extensive experience
in government and academia. Following his initial appointment
at the Claremont Institute (1982-86), he was a special assistant
to then-Chairman Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission. After his years in Washington, he
held visiting university appointments including Olin Distinguished
Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Masugi
is co-author with Brian Janiskee of both The
California Republic: Institutions, Statesmanship, and Policies (Rowman & Littlefield,
2004) and Democracy
in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (Rowman & Littlefield,
2002). He is co-editor of six books on political thought,
Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism with
Branford P. Wilson, (Ashbrook Series, 1997); The
Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment with William Rusher,
(University Press, 1995); The
American Founding with J. Jackson Barlow
and Leonard W. Levy, (Greenwood Press, 1988). He is the editor
Tocqueville's Democracy in America, (Rowman & Littlefield,
to Masugi index]
Battle Centers on Restoring Self-Government
Who stands for property rights?
[Ken Masugi] 7/20/04
Schwarzenegger's governorship could be the most important
in California history,
the one that unlocks the stranglehold
of liberal interest groups on the governance of the Golden
State and revives the fundamental principle of self-government.
In the case of California, that requires major surgery, not
two aspirin. In his inaugural address, Governor Schwarzenegger
spoke to the point of wanting to "blow up the boxes." Let
us help him light some fuses.
In the current
dispute over the budget it is easy to overlook what is at stake:
principle of self-government. Entangled
in the budget debate, the current proposals for local government
reform are not only inadequate—they actually aggravate
the problem. Without such principles we will lose all direction
and be unable to distinguish between compromises over tactics
and trivia, and compromises over principles.
Let us first acknowledge the fundamental role of local governments
in revitalizing the California dream. If Americans can't govern
themselves locally, how can they govern themselves on the state
or federal level? If self-government is gone, so is our entire
way of life.
local self-government cannot occur unless citizens have the
to permit cities and counties to tax themselves.
Then local governments have authority, responsibility, and accountability.
Those who elect them—often from their neighbors—can
determine whether the monies collected are spent wisely or foolishly.
Those who tax should also be those who spend. And the voters
who pay the taxes should have the ability to vote out those local
officials who fail them. As the governor knows, California's
present financial arrangements have undermined this common-sense
notion of responsibility.
Californians wisely limited local governments in raising the
by passing Proposition 13. An unfortunate, unintended
consequence of the measure was the deterioration of local governments'
responsibility. A premium was put on their ability to lobby Sacramento
for their property tax funds—and as you well know the increase
of power there has done nothing to increase Sacramento's accountability.
Far from it. The whole state gradually went out of kilter. But
the proposed remedy for Californians' drastic actions, Proposition
65, the ill-named "Local Taxpayers and Public Safety Protection
Act" does not bring us back to self-government.
Proposition 65 does not get to the heart of the problem—the
lack of accountability. For 25 years, the lure of sales tax revenues
set local government against local government, in the pursuit
of revenue-raising businesses. Again, the local priorities became
distorted. Redevelopment agencies flourished under such temptations,
which too often prove to be fanciful condemnation of supposedly "blighted" areas.
They wielded arbitrary power in local communities and invited
corruption by virtually seizing private property for alleged
public benefit. A lack of local authority has begotten not just
irresponsibility but injustice, as some see homes and businesses
gone, to please a majority on the local redevelopment agency.
A further injustice is that Proposition 65 aggravates the problems
of unfairness and unaccountability. Under current law, it would
return Orange County only 7% of the property taxes received from
it. (By comparison, Los Angeles County gets 21%, San Francisco
64%.) While many parts of southern California should be outraged
by this bullying, no community should be satisfied with such
been missing in this debate, and from public action for many
years, is a
respect for property rights—not the
rights of the wealthy but the rights of everyone to acquire and
retain the wealth of their labors, whatever their occupation.
Sacramento's concern has instead been to expand government programs
and reward its favorites. In doing so it has distorted the housing
market, increased regulation, and driven out businesses. If Sacramento
had instead respected individuals' rights to their property and
labor, they would have protected the homeowner (and the would-be
homeowner), the entrepreneur, and all others who are raising
their families, and many more would now be enjoying the California
of reforming the place of local government should keep in mind
accountability and respect for property rights. They form the
heart of self-government.
At the end of a great action movie, the great treasure of the
Ark is buried in a pile of boxes in a government warehouse. That
Ark is self-government. The boxes are the barriers and programs
Sacramento has created over the years. Let's blow up those bureaucratic
boxes and retrieve self-government. CRO
copyright 2004 Claremont