- - Thursday, February 27, 2014

The late, legendary Warren Zevon used to sing of a day “when California slides into the ocean.” Despite the predictions of learned climatologists and seismologists, it may never come to that, if venture capitalist Tim Draper succeeds with a daffy scheme. He’s the man behind “The Six Californias” initiative that the state has just certified to go to the signature-gathering phase.

The premise is simple. The initiative would break the Golden State into six separate but not exactly equal parts — the new states of Jefferson, North California, South California, West California, Central California, and Silicon Valley, subject to acts of Congress.

On its face, the idea seems silly, but it’s part of a larger but not necessarily serious secessionist move underway in various forms elsewhere. In Colorado, several energy-rich northern counties want either their own state or to become part of Idaho, which has more sensible environmental and energy policies. In New York, some residents are once more talking up the idea of jettisoning New York City and its surrounding counties. The idea is perhaps most practical in Texas, where the state was arguably admitted to the union with the condition that it could divide itself into five individual states. Washington, D.C., which has yet to manage cityhood, dreams of statehood.

The Six Californias initiative has little chance of succeeding. Concerns about water rights would drown discussion of benefits, but Mr. Draper might collect the 800,000 signatures required to put his idea to a vote. The measure’s allure jumps out from the official summary, which explains that “all tax collections and spending by the existing State of California would end, with its assets and liabilities divided among the new states.” Escaping tax-happy politicians in Sacramento is highly popular beyond the major cities.

California is a financial wreck. The dominant Democrats are held hostage by the public-employee unions that put them in the legislature, and the path to fiscal responsibility appears to be blocked permanently. Higher taxes are coming statewide, especially now that the tax-and-spend caucus holds enough seats in the legislature to override Proposition 13’s supermajority safeguards against tax increases.

Breaking the state up into six parts, even without considering the impact it would have on the U.S. Senate, would enable those who have grown rich from the technology boom to live in the new state of Silicon Valley. Instead of paying some of the highest taxes in the nation, residents would pay the lowest. It might be easy to abolish the state income tax so that those who live there would no longer feel the allure of Nevada, Florida, Texas or Tennessee. They would get lower taxes. Los Angeles and the communities around it could no longer spread the cost of their social welfare programs among California’s entire population. They would have to pay for their handouts themselves, which they couldn’t do.

Beneath the facade of something that sounds a little silly, Mr. Draper may have hit on something serious, a way to dissolve the expanding social welfare state while staying within the law and constitutional limits.