California is in crisis. Maybe we should recognize that it's terminal.
The problem: Sacramento is in a state of total capitol dysfunction. The budget has grown vastly more impossible to balance (an additional $40 billion over 18 months must be scrounged up somehow), but the tax-intoxicated Democratic legislature insists upon more money from the citizens. State Controller John Chiang has warned that the state will have to begin issuing IOUs February 1.
We have been warned so often about disaster that it can be difficult to believe that the axe may be close at hand. A year ago I wrote Mexifornian Pols, Schwarzenegger, Bankrupt California. The only thing that has changed is how many more billions of dollars we are in the hole.
The Sacramento politicians hoped that good economic news would appear to rescue them from responsibility. But instead the financial picture has been the worst in decades. California's unemployment rate in December was 8.2 percent—1.5 percentage points higher than the national level. The state's mortgage foreclosures were up 131 percent in 2008 over the previous year. Each day's financial news has been worse than the one before. So—no easy escape for Sacto pols.
Even with the worsening budget crisis throughout 2008, however, California's legislators frittered away the session, creating bills that indicate a distinct lack of seriousness and were ultimately vetoed by the Governor, including...
A law correcting punctuation on bottled water labels.
A law requiring rodents slated to be food for pet shop animals be slaughtered humanely.
To underline the busy-work quality of legislation this year: the Governor vetoed a record high 35 percent of bills passed. [Schwarzenegger vetoed bills at record rate in 2008, by Steve Wiegand, Sacramento Bee, Jan 1, 2009.] And Bee Columnist Dan Walters called the 772 bills signed into law "mostly trivial" [California Capitol's 2009 Prospects Look Grim, January 12, 2009]
Californians have tried long and hard to make Sacramento get serious about the state's business. In the beginning, there was Proposition 13, the 1978 taxpayer revolt against skyrocketing property taxes. In 1990, a citizen initiative, Prop 140, forced term limits on Sacto lawmakers. In 2008, Speaker Fabian Nunez and like-minded riff-raff pols attempted to gut term limits by calling their naked power grab "reform", but the voters were not fooled.
Of course, the best known effort to fix state politics was the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, and subsequent election of Hollywood action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still claims to be a Republican. Voters were angry about Davis' approval of drivers' licenses for illegal aliens and were particularly frustrated by his refusal to bring state spending under control.
According to calculations by State Senator Tom McClintock, spending under Gov. Davis had grown by seven percent annually. But, since then, Schwarzenegger has increased that rate to 10 percent.
Professor John G. Matsusaka of USC wrote in the LA Times
"California state government spent $145 billion last fiscal year, $41 billion more than four years ago when Gov. Gray Davis got recalled by voters. With all that new spending—a whopping 40% increase—we ought to be in a golden age of government with abundant public services for all.
"So why does it seem like the quality and quantity of government is not all that different from 2004? How many of us feel like we are getting 40% more public services, 40% better schools, roads, parks and so on? "
Prof Matsusaka helpfully explained "what we got from the last $41 billion."
"Some of it went to cover increases in the cost of living, and state spending naturally grows with the size of the population. But even adjusting for inflation and population growth, state spending is up almost 20% compared with four years ago, a big enough bump that ordinary Californians should be able to notice it. The state's financial statements describe where the money went—the big gainers were education ($13 billion), transportation ($10 billion) and health ($10 billion)—but not why these billions don't create even a blip on our day-to-day radar. " [Where does all that state money go?, July 17, 2008)
At least one of those money magnets, education, is hugely impacted by the entry of millions of immigrants and illegal aliens. A FAIR report, Breaking the Piggy Bank, figured the $7.7 billion spent on educating the children of illegal aliens was 13 percent of the 2004-5 education budget. In addition, the 2007 Legislative Analysts Office report on English learners noted that 25 percent (1.6 million) of California's K-12 students are English learners. Plus, over $1.3 billion in funds were slated for bilingual programs for 2007-08 (Fig. 8)—even though the voters supposedly ended "bilingual" education (more accurately described as teaching in Spanish) via Prop 227 in 1998 in favor of English immersion for immigrant kiddies.
It is likewise significant that SacraMexico pols won't even take action against the low-hanging fruit for spending cuts, e.g. the taxpayer tuition subsidy (AB 540) for illegal alien college students (many of whom are Asian, interestingly). That issue has had to be dragged through the courts over years at great expense for the participants because the legislature is too Mexifornicated to mind the people's business properly. It was recently announced that the case would advanced to the highest state level, California Supreme Court to take on state law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants [LA Times, Jan 5, 2009]. Assembly Member Chuck Devore introduced legislation last November to repeal AB 540, estimated to cost taxpayers $117 million annually. He introduced a similar measure in January of 2008 to no avail.
The tuition debacle has gone on for so long (since 2001) that there are now hundreds of illegal alien college graduates who benefited by the program of taxpayer subsidy but who are unable to work legally. After years of unearned entitlement, the young foreign adults are miffed that they cannot obtain employment in America. As public policy, AB 540 has been doubly evil: not only have foreigners received subsidized educations but they also took up valuable college slots which should have gone to California young people whose parents paid taxes for state colleges and universities.
Voters are demoralized by the stubborn resistance of Sacramento to responsibility. In September, a Field poll showed the public's approval of Gov Schwarzenegger to be just 38 percent. But 63 percent would vote against recalling him from office.
"Why bother with all that trouble to get another useless suit?" seems to be the general attitude.
California may just be too big and too diverse to govern. California's difficulty excessive has resulted in balkanized tribal areas of different ethnicities and languages, as well as vastly different ideas about how (and whose) resources should be used. Teddy Roosevelt's characterization of "squabbling nationalities" comes to mind.
Thirty-eight million people spread over 163,707 square miles can be hard to wrangle, particularly when 28 percent were foreign born as of 2005, more than double the national proportion (12 percent). California has the highest percentage of foreign language speakers—43 percent speak a language other than English at home.
In particular California has too many Mexicans who care more about their ancestral homeland than assimilating to this country.
In addition, immigration-caused diversity is a force multiplier of societal stresses. As sociologist Robert Putnam has determined, diversity decreases trust. It doesn't help that immigrants are never satisfied, never done with demanding more that what citizens receive, like tuition breaks and totally free medical care.
Excessive diversity has been piled upon an unfortunate level of profligate population growth. California's population in 1950 was 10.6 million. If state growth had mirrored the national rate, that is, doubling from 1950 to 2000 (i.e. from 150 million to 300 million), then California at the end of the 20th century would have numbered a little over 21 million. Instead, the population reached nearly 34 million at that time, with no end in sight—and no political leadership that supports limits to growth.
No-one in California government today is willing to take the tough measures necessary to solve the structural financial problems. The short-term fix is to kick them down the road into someone else's administration.
In fact, the idea of dividing California has been proposed more than two dozen times during the state's history. A serious attempt was made in 1859 with a bill by Assembly Member Andres Pico to divide the state along the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Today, localizing many of the Hispanics into the southern zone beyond the Tehachapi Mountains could make sense; call the place Mexifornia and write it off as a failed social experiment.
One of the more recent partition proposals was in the early 1990s, when then-Assemblyman Stan Statham of Redding came up with a three-state plan that was passed by the Assembly as a item to be placed before the voters for a non-binding referendum to determine the public interest. But the bill did not make it through the Senate.
The Three Californias blog has helpful background information about the issue of divvying up the state. The author presents a division of three in which he has attempted to combine natural political and environmental demarcations, in a way that is sensible and agreeable. That blog's basic map:
It is an axiom in the patriotic immigration reform movement that good fences make good neighbors. By limiting the opportunity for cross-communal plundering through the tax system, good fences could make fiscally-responsible neighbors too.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. In a future tripartite California, Brenda would be in the coastal zone, which she thinks should be named Foglandia.