The Golden State has been drowning in a maelstrom of self-created misery. A budget crisis of monumental proportions is exacerbated by one of the country's worst unemployment rates, 12.2 percent in August.
But what's really disturbing is the refusal of Sacramento to make the fundamental changes needed to return the state to a balanced budget and economic sanity. The state is victim to a perfect storm of idiot ideologies, from Open Borders creating a Mexifornian population explosion, to nutty environmentalism.
California is a scary reverse universe, where the legislature is purposefully creating job loss and economic ruin. The nominally Republican Governor Schwarzenegger has done little good and a lot bad—including his enthusiastic promotion of a unilateral state climate bill.
Even if you believe that human-caused climate change is real, it is still crazy for one state to cripple its economy when others nearby do not. For example, Nevada is happy to receive fleeing businesses. It has been successfully pitching itself as the lower-tax, lower-regulation alternative.
It is tragic to see Eden headed so resolutely to hell. California has been blessed with spectacular land, abundant natural resources and many brilliant, talented people. It has been the spawning ground of new ideas, both excellent and odious. Thus Silicon Valley changed the world and was started by some nerdy kids in their parents' garages. Perhaps the laid-back lifestyle made ignoring state politics too easy, but the Jarvis-Gann tax revolt of the 1970s and passage of Prop 187 in 1994 (which would have prevented illegal aliens using taxpayer-funded services) showed many citizens wanted the state redirected. Nevertheless, the bad ideas have predominated in recent years.
“California has the country's largest gross state product, at $1.55 trillion, far ahead of No. 2 New York's $965 billion, but the Golden State is dead last in business costs and ranks 10th in growth prospects, 22nd in labor, 26th in quality of life, 27th in economic climate and 39th in regulatory environment.” [Forbes: California improves to 12th worst for business, San Francisco Business Journal, September 24, 2009]
A devastating economic report was recently pried loose from Sacramento that quantified the dollar costs and job loss caused by deranged overregulation:
“Regulations on small businesses in California have cost the state's economy $492 billion and 3.8 million jobs, according to a report quietly released by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office this week….
“The report, [PDF] authored by Sanjay B. Varshney, the dean of the business school at California State University Sacramento and Dennis H. Tootelian, a marketing professor at Sacramento State, totaled the 'direct, indirect and induced' costs of regulation to calculate the $492 billion figure. It found the cost of regulation was $134,122 per small business in 2007 and caused about one job loss per small business.” [Report says regulations hurt state's economy, San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 2009]
(You can read the original 84-page report in PDF: Cost of State Regulations on California—Small Businesses Study.)
The far-left Democrats who run the California legislature have poisoned the well for honest business, even green companies, which they claim to support.
KFI-AM'S John and Ken radio show of Sept 24 included a discussion of the overregulation report [LISTEN (MP3).]: "They stalked me from morning till night", said one green start-up about the regulators. A concrete company CEO testified that in the process of bringing 400 jobs to the state, his business underwent 150 inspections in one year and paid $9 million in fees.
And while Sacramento is busy chasing business out of the state, it is exceptionally generous to persons claiming to be hard up: with 12 percent of the U.S. population, California has 32 percent of the welfare cases.
The priorities of state government are stunningly cockeyed. A watchdog group published a list of nearly 5,000 retired state and municipal workers who have pensions over $100k annually.
May 18 marked the special election of six propositions that spendaholic Sacramento hoped would approve a stealth tax increase and other budget flim-flammery to preserve the current system. But voters in every county rejected Prop 1A, which was falsely marketed as a "Rainy Day Fund" but was really an extended tax increase, as confirmed by the Legislative Analyst Office).
Voters sniffing out the lies in the special election was bad news for the legislature which has depended on shrieks of doom to scare up more taxes from citizens.
As a result, Sacramento was forced to make some budget cuts though with numerous gimmicks like borrowing from local governments' revenue, but nothing like the chainsaw cutbacks that are needed to fix structural problems like unreformed welfare, illegal aliens and enormous pensions. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a revised budget into law July 28, but it is understood to be a jerry-rigged affair that leaves a shortfall of $15 billion.
So ugly choices have been made, like closing the State University system to new students in the spring semester. Normally around 35,000 students enroll each spring for a place at the 23 campuses, so this cutback will affect quite a few young people who depend on the lower tuition at the State schools. In addition, steep tuition increases are proposed for the elite UC system, which would put the price of a year's education for state residents above $10,000 for the first time.
Meanwhile, illegal alien students still receive taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition (which costs over $100 million annually), although the lawsuit against this unlawful practice is moving forward in the courts. (Interestingly, nearly half of the illegal alien students in the UC system are Asians.)
Another scheme of Sacramento to save money: the early release of state prisoners, which was not received positively despite hollow assurances that the really dangerous criminals would stay locked up. On September 4, the Wall Street Journal headlined: California at Risk of New Stalemate Over Prisons, noting that the two bodies can't agree on how many thousands of felons to release into state streets.
“To fulfill part of its July budget deal, the state Assembly passed a bill Monday that would reduce California's prison population of 160,000 by a total of 17,000 in the next 10 months. Democrats passed the bill with a bare majority of 41 votes in the 80-member Assembly, without any Republican support.
The bill would allow certain inmates to be released early by completing rehabilitation programs, eliminate parole supervision for some nonviolent convicts and allow probation violators to be housed in local jails. The legislation faces an uncertain fate in the state Senate over the next days—and possibly weeks. “
From the legislators' viewpoint, news of the shocking kidnapping and 18-year imprisonment of 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard by parolee Phillip Garrido was a badly timed reminder for the public of how poorly the criminal justice system protects the innocent.
But when the going gets difficult, the difficult lawmakers get out of town. Despite vital state issues left undecided, seven state senators plus family and associates recently jetted off on a 19-day junket to Copenhagen, Madrid, Bilbao and Barcelona [State senators' travel plans delay special session, By Patrick McGreevy, LA Times, September 25, 2009].
One of the traveling senators is the villainous "One Bill" Gil Cedillo, known for annual legislation pushing drivers licenses for illegal aliens. Hopefully this trip marks his final slurp from the public trough. As he faced being timed out by term limits, he ran for Congress and lost to State Board of Equalization Vice Chairwoman Judy Chu—a fine example of the new diversity in action. He recently called for an end to all immigration enforcement, which was likely a multimedia advertisement to announce his availability for a cushy Raza position in post-Sacto life.
Another of Sacramento's dire threats: the closure of the state's parks, which was scaled back in September to reducing the time open. But leaving parks unprotected by rangers invites all sorts of damage, from ripping off lush foliage to sell to florists to poaching valuable animals and operating toxic marijuana sites. All of these forms of malfeasance are popular among illegal aliens, it should be noted.
California parks already suffer from too many people behaving badly:
Crime in California's state parks has more than doubled over the past decade, outpacing growth in the statewide crime rate and in park use, according to a review of park crime data by The Bee.
There were 58,475 criminal incidents in California's 279 state parks in 2008, or an average of 160 every day, according to crime data obtained from the state Department of Parks and Recreation. The crime rate rose from 35 crimes per 100,000 visitors in 1999 to 75 last year.
From simple trespassing to theft of artifacts, park crime has been raised as a leading concern as the state prepares to close more parks on weekdays—or for entire seasons—to address a budget crisis. [...]
"I could easily see the stripping of our state parks," said Richard Bergstresser, president of the State Park Peace Officers Association and a ranger at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. "There will be an uptick in, for instance, marijuana plantations, vandalism, outright theft." [Crimes soar in California state parks, By Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee, September 27, 2009]
How typical of Sacramento to welcome millions more people than California can socially or physically accommodate—and then not be prepared to protect the shared natural heritage of the citizens.
If industrial outsourcing, permissive immigration, ridiculously generous pensions and punitive regulation were winning strategies for a balanced budget, then California would still be a great success instead of an increasingly Mexified state with growing pockets of third-world slums and a permanent underclass.
California is a textbook case of stupid and irresponsible governance, largely because failed political ideologies are still popular in the halls of the state legislature. Economist Milton Friedman famously observed, "You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state". California has surely demonstrated the folly of trying to do exactly that.
The current financial disaster was easily foreseeable—along with the associated social and environmental symptoms of the mess we have today.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She remains an environmentalist and believes in regulation against poisoning the air, water and land. Nobody wants air you can see, as in Mexico City and Beijing, she thinks, but sucking the life out of productive commerce by overregulation is just Marxism by other means.