I want nothing from California governments – except whatever I need right now.
So why, in this Internet age, doesn’t my state offer a one-stop shop where I can renew my driver’s license, register to vote, pay my taxes and buy passes to a state park?
My desire is not new. The one-shop stop is one of the oldest ideas in California governance, a staple of candidate position papers and commission reports. In the last year, worthies have suggested one-stop online shops for poor people signing up for public assistance, for businesses seeking permits and licenses and for parents looking for child care.
“Imagine if Californians had one personalized log-in account to manage all their business with the state, from updating address information and voter registration to paying taxes and applying for and managing benefits,” the Little Hoover Commission, the state’s independent oversight agency, suggested recently. “And they could do it all from a mobile device while taking the bus to soccer practice or at home after putting their children to bed for the night.”
These are sweet dreams, kids, but only dreams. Like the holy grail, the effective California one-stop shop exists only in the realm of myth.
My one-stop answer: California has too many governments – literally thousands of them – that demand compliance with their own separate rules as a way to protect their very existence.
Indeed, our governing system seems designed with the opposite of one-stop shopping as its guiding principle. California has more permitting and licensing agencies than most other states, all sorts of regional bodies and the California Environmental Quality Act, which can kill almost any worthwhile project.
Hence, the one-stop paradox: Californians need one-stop shops to deal with the government because of the very inefficiencies that make one-stop shops nearly impossible here.
This paradox is also why the idea of the one-stop shop is so very useful. It’s an essential dodge for politicians and bureaucrats who have no real interest in doing the hard work of consolidating agencies and making things clearer for taxpayers.
Given the dysfunction these one-stop shops are proposed to mask, it’s hardly surprising that they never make it very far off the ground. When the state does launch one, it’s often incomplete (the California Business Portal provides good information but no single form to start your business) or makes so many mistakes that it produces new industries to help you navigate it (like the Covered California health insurance exchange).
For now, the best option for those seeking customer-friendly service is to hire lobbyists. That’s one reason the numbers of lobbyists and other fixers keeps growing.
Which gives me an idea: If governments won’t give us a one-stop shop, the least they can do is provide Californians with their own fixers. Call it concierges for all!
California government has experimented with concierge-style service before. Pete Wilson’s administration had “red teams” to help companies in the 1990s. Concierges-for-all would be much costlier, with most of the 100,000 (my best estimate) concierges being private contractors rather than government employees (we couldn’t afford the pensions).
All California adults would be assigned to one concierge; we could put our concierge’s email and number into our mobile phones, like we do with the plumber or dentist. These concierges would have to respond to our requests in 48 hours, and would have the power to secure permits and licenses, or schedule appointments with government officials or relatives doing time in state prisons.
I want nothing from California government, except somebody whose job it is to get me whatever I need right now.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.