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April 11, 2014
Editorial: Six Californias measure would create the nation's richest and poorest states

sixstates.jpg(April 11 - By the Editorial Board)

If California were to break up into a half-dozen smaller states, a proposal that might actually make the November ballot, it would create the nation's richest state, and its poorest.

The state of Silicon Valley would bundle the vast wealth of its eponymous region with San Francisco's riches. The per capita personal income of the folks in this new state would be $63,288, the highest in the United States. By contrast, the state of Central California would have the lowest in per capita income in the U.S., replacing current bottom placeholder Mississippi.

The new state order dreamed up by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Timothy C. Draper as part of his "Six Californias" fantasy creates an even greater economic disparity than the country now experiences. Lopping off the wealthy coasts from the working-class interior means concentrating wealth - and poverty - to unhealthy extremes.

The state of Central California gets the worst deal of all. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, it would have the lowest property tax base and the second-lowest sales tax base. Those taxes are the main sources of funding for local and state government. It would have fewer premium state universities - just one UC and no law or medical schools. But it would have the largest share of prisons. Central California also has a heavier reliance on state programs for the poor, which are in large part subsidized by the richer areas of the state.

Central California doesn't even get to keep Sacramento; the capital city gets lumped into the state of North California.

Jefferson, the state that would comprise the true northern portion of modern-day California, fares pretty badly as well. However, the enthusiasm of the people in the far north to distance themselves from their southern counterparts might make them blind - at least at first - to the economic disparity that comes with independence.

When unveiled in December, the measure seemed liked a pipe dream of one eccentric rich man to slough off the less-glamorous parts of the state. It wasn't even a new idea. Californians have had separation aspirations since about forever. State voters even passed a measure to split the state into two in 1859, less than a decade after it became a state, but Congress didn't ratify it.

The Six Californias effort doesn't seem so far out now. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in late March that Draper told a gathering that he was close to getting the signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot. He was probably confident because he had just put in another $1.2 million of his own money to the effort, on top of the $750,000 he used to launch it.

We'll know soon if this divorce plan has a real shot at the November ballot. If Draper wants to ensure it meets all the deadlines, he'll need to have his 807,615 signatures turned in by next Friday, according to the secretary of state's office. And even if voters approve it, the breakup would face years of tough challenges, such as getting Congress and the president to sign off on a plan that adds California lawmakers.

Meanwhile, opposition is already forming. Two longtime political consultants, Joe Rodota and Steve Maviglio, announced last week the OneCalifornia campaign to oppose the Six Californias initiative. If the measure qualifies for the November election, you can bet there will be more. Especially when the people in the future poorest U.S. state start to understand what it means for them.