03/21/2007 04:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A California Strategy for the California Primary

After decades of watching states with a fraction of our population shape the presidential debate and dominate the nominating process, California just moved its presidential primary to the start of the campaign season. Will this move be worth the $75 million price tag for a February election? Only if it really gives us a voice, not only in deciding the candidates and their priorities, but also if Californians use this opportunity to help California.

(Of course, if all of the candidates and initiatives for the June primary were moved to February, California would save $75 million, have a higher turnout and not have two statewide elections in four months--but that would spoil some state legislators' plans to get their term limits extended before they lose a chance to seek re-election.)

The main point is that Californians must learn to speak up for California. We all need to demand federal action on some of the serious challenges facing our state - challenges that have been overlooked and underfunded for too long by Washington.

California gets shortchanged when federal tax dollars are at stake. In 2003, according to the non-partisan California Institute for Federal Policy research, Californians sent $50 billion more to Washington in federal taxes than the state received in federal expenditures. That means that for every dollar you paid to the Internal Revenue Service, only 79 cents found its way back to California in the form of federal programs and expenditures.

That may not sound too bad until you realize that 44 states receive more than we do. Texas, for example, gets 92 cents for every dollar it sends to Washington. If we got 92 cents back, it would add billions per year for transportation, homeland security, Medicaid and more.

California is laughingly referred to by some as the "ATM of Presidential Politics" because every four years a parade of White House hopefuls in both parties taps the generosity of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Orange County, the San Joaquin Valley, San Diego and all other points north from the border through to the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, the "joke" is on us. The major candidates--not just for president but also for the U.S. Congress--typically receive a large share of their donations in California and then leave town and forget about California getting its fair share from Washington. We deserve better. We must demand better.

Over the next two years, the presidential candidates of both parties will hold rallies, shake hands and raise lots of money here in California. The process has already begun. We Californians must take these opportunities to address not only the important issues we care about as Americans--from the environment to the economy to the war in Iraq--but also to the critical issues that significantly affect California but are neglected by the federal government--especially the costs and challenges of illegal immigration, homeland security, health care, transportation and the piracy of intellectual property. Candidates for president, as well as the U.S. Senate and House, should be held to account for their views on fairly funding these important challenges facing California that are appropriately federal responsibilities.

I am urging all Californians to add two clear messages to their agendas for federal candidates: 1) Give California its fair share of the tax dollars Californians send to Washington, 2) Get serious about stopping global piracy of intellectual property (films, music, computer software, etc.) that would otherwise contribute billions of dollars to this nation's and this state's economy and tax revenues.

Let me give you a couple examples of how California is subsidizing the rest of the nation. About a year ago, I visited Jackson, Wyoming, where the vice president lives. While I was there, I learned that the state had just received $4 million in federal funds for some "badly needed" bike paths! Now, Jackson is home to some 8,500 people, so Uncle Sam's gift comes to about $500 per person in a town where animals outnumber residents by at least two to one. For a bike path. In a state with no state income tax.

That doesn't make sense. Neither does Wyoming's share of federal money for homeland security. Until recently, it was seven times per capita bigger than California's, even though our state is home to some of America's most important--and vulnerable--economic assets.

Consider the possible impact of a terrorist attack on one of California's sea ports: The American Association of Port Authorities said that if even one of this state's major ports was forced to close for just one month, it would cost our national economy $60 billion. The Brookings Institute has said that a major-weapons-related catastrophe at the Port of Long Beach or Los Angeles would create damage to the global economy in the neighborhood of $1 trillion. The human tragedy would dwarf that. Yet, our ports do not receive nearly enough federal support.

Anyone who is familiar with California knows that we have particularly expensive obligations ranging from immigration and education to infrastructure improvement and public safety. This state needs a fair shake from Washington, D.C., and the 2008 presidential candidates should commit right now to making sure California gets better and fairer treatment from the federal government. (Senator Clinton has said she is committed to that, by the way.)

Another thing California and the U.S. need from Washington is more vigorous protection of intellectual property. In a report just issued, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) estimates that L.A. County alone last year lost $5.2 billion to piracy and the illegal sale of counterfeited movie DVDs, music recordings, apparel, accessories, and software. Each year, piracy costs just this county 106,000 jobs and $483 million in lost taxes to state and local governments. This is money that otherwise would be available for our schools, roads, public safety, transportation, environmental projects, healthcare, deficit reduction and more.

All of us ought to be asking why. Why does California come up short when federal tax money gets disbursed? Why is the federal government not doing more to protect against the theft of our state's intellectual property? Perhaps more important, how does the next president plan to ensure fairer and more equitable treatment of this nation's largest and most innovative state? What will Senators and Congressmen from other states, who get our donations, do to help California?

As America's presidential hopefuls and other federal office-seekers come to California in search of votes and money--and we have the most of both--we should demand answers and commitments for California.