California has a long history of deflecting efforts to make the state function better. Experts say now is not the time to give up trying.

By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times
November 25, 2012, 5:45 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — For the last couple of years, some of the state’s most influential business titans and elder statesmen have taken time off to grapple with the mess in Sacramento.

Former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice, Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and other heavyweights have all attended an effort known as the Think Long Committee for California, which is focused on squaring away the years of mismanagement from Sacramento and conflicting mandates from citizen initiatives.

They haven’t gotten very far.

Nor has a similar effort launched by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and others before he departed California for the Obama administration. A push by Bay Area business leaders to launch a constitutional convention to deal with the state’s vexing policy problems sputtered and died.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had some very big names working on blowing up the boxes of government — almost all of which are still intact.

It’s a decades-old pattern in California. The state plunges into financial crisis, Wall Street sounds an alarm about reckless management, celebrity thinkers spend countless hours hashing out solutions, only to see them pushed aside when special interests push back or tax receipts start to pick up.

Now, with billions of dollars of new taxes that voters approved in November, the urgency is easing again.

“These reform efforts have been going on for a long, long time,” said Bill Leonard, a former GOP lawmaker from the Inland Empire who served for decades.

Leonard was the member of a bipartisan commission drafted by the governor and legislative leaders to find ways to revise the state Constitution to avoid future budget crises — in 1996.

“I can’t remember a single one of our recommendations being enacted,” he said. “We didn’t even get the courtesy of a hearing.”

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