It’s a New Legislative Year. That means it’s time for California Governor Jerry Brown to give his “State of the State” address. Undoubtedly, Brown along with his California Democrats and their supportive media will claim that California is in good shape. The truth, however, is that California is facing real problems and is deeply divided economically and politically.
When we consider the state of the state, you might ask what is the core mission of government? Keeping its citizens safe? Educating its youth? Taking care of its roads and water supply? Or perhaps fostering economic prosperity? Most people would count those among the most important. On each of those counts, however, California is in real trouble and government policies are to blame.
Public safety, of course, should be THE core government function—yet California has big public safety problems. Indeed, for decades now California has suffered from prison overcrowding and California Democrats have refused to build adequate prisons, or otherwise deal with the problem in a safe manner.
The problem became so severe, (1) that the US Supreme Court, nearly three years ago, ruled that the state had to reduce prison over crowding, and (2) that federal judges took over the administration of the prison health care system in 2005. Judges taking over prison administration is an epic failure of the Legislature and the last two governors—but it gets worse.
Rather than sufficiently increase prison capacity, Brown and his Democrats forced the release of tens of thousands of prisoners with thousands more still to be released. Many of those already released (and to be released) are felons, i.e. those with high rates of recidivism for more serious crimes. Predictably, crime is on the rise and the released prisoners are partly to blame.
Apparently that is not a sufficient enough concern for the Sacramento Democrats. They remain wedded to their soft–on-crime policies, a lack of adequate prisons, and no budget reform for a state with one of the highest prisoner-to-prisoner worker ratio in the nation—read: too many public employee union members.
There is, however, a Department of Corrections doctor receiving $400,000 per year doing mail duty because he is considered “unfit” to treat patients—and yet cannot be fired. Most would consider the state of the state’s prison system to be in serious trouble—except for the ruling Democrats in California. That is the real state of their state.
Education you ask? When it comes to its high school graduation ranking, California ranks 3rd to last in the nation. Minority drop out rates exceed 60% in some Los Angeles high schools. Of course, the Left’s only answer is more spending on a school system, which already features excessively high administrative costs and has been listed as one of the three worst states at training teachers. Most would consider the state of the state’s education system to be in serious trouble—except the ruling Democrats in California. That is the real state of their state.
As for highways, California ranked 47th in the most recent of the Reason Foundation’s 20th Annual Highway Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems. Only Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Alaska have it worse. While most think a good highway system is critical to an economy, the current Governor Brown is allowing his father’s legacy of building highways literally to crumble.
Instead of fixing what exists, Brown Jr. is committing untold tens of billions to a high-speed rail system that almost nobody outside a public employee union wants. Most would consider that the state of the state’s highway system to be in serious trouble—except the ruling Democrats in California. That is the real state of their state.
Then there is the California water crisis. Sadly, California is facing another severe drought, which will hurt residential and commercial customers badly. Of course, California has experienced severe droughts before, so it understands a droughts potential to significantly damage the state’s economy.
You would think that increased water storage for a growing, drought-prone state would be a priority. Instead, California farmers have been denied water for years to save a tiny baitfish and environmentalists have blocked the needed increased storage.
Most would consider the state of the state’s water delivery system to be in serious trouble and inadequate for California’s 38 million residents—except the ruling Democrats in California. That is the real state of their state.
All of the above problems hurt the California economy. So does the over $1.1 trillion in city, county and state debt or unfunded liabilities which keeps businesses away for fear of being a tax target. That too is the state of the state.
Nevertheless, the Democrats argue that California is doing well. The question, however, is for whom? For some in the San Francisco Bay region and in the Los Angeles/Orange County area, it may well be. But overall, California ranks 46th worst in unemployment in the country at 8.5%, 45th in job creation, 50th as a business start-up climate and #1 in poverty.
Much of that unemployment is in the Central Valley where unemployment is as high as 30% in some farming communities. Those communities have been denied sufficient water for years, i.e. a man-made drought, and are becoming like ghost towns. Several years back, during one peak of the farming crisis, in the former breadbasket of the world, unemployed farm workers were distributed food. Newly-elected Republican State Senator Andy Vidak, a cattle rancher himself who had to give up ranching for lack of water and therefore feed, prior to his election was there to hand out the food. Those handouts included carrots—from China. Not from—from China.
Vidak, who was elected in a special election despite facing a district with a 22% Democrat registration advantage, says he “can’t quantify the human suffering” in a Valley left behind by politicians. The location that suffered the worst of the nation’s foreclosure crisis also lacks qualified health care professionals (in part due to low reimbursement rates) while suffering one of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the state. That too is the state of the state.
Keep in mind that earning the 46th worst unemployment ranking in the nation is an amazing feat/failure for California politicians. You see, California is arguable the most blessed state in the union. Between its natural resources (including loads of fracking-friendly oil), its trade friendly coastlines, its world-renowned entertainment, and hi-tech industries, it takes some doing for government policies to produce such unemployment. 46th is the state of the California economy—but that’s not all.
California is in a badly divided political state, and government policies are the reason. California’s government, for all intents and purposes, is run by politicians from the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco Bay Area. Those areas are the state’s major population centers. LA County, for instance, is more populated than 42 states in our Union. Not surprisingly, the politicians produced by those huge urban areas, like all such places across the nation, are more liberal than their rural counterparts.
As a result, California has its own red state/blue state divide between the largely blue coast and red inland counties. The policies of those blue counties were such that for years now, red-leaning residents left those blue urban areas and migrated to more red-leaning surroundings. Lately, however, many have just left the state altogether including over 4 million taxpayers since 1998—many seeking jobs, and others seeking red-friendly states.
The problem for the red county residents that remain is that they are subjugated to laws of the ruling blue party Democrats. For instance, excessive environmental regulations and laws have strangled entire industries. Up North, the regulations of the urban politicians have literally strangled the historic lumber industries in places like Plumas County—an idyllic community of 2,600 square miles and just over 19,000 people.
The resentment is so strong that several northern counties have voted to secede from the state with more counties on the brink of doing so. They want to create the State of Jefferson – an ideal state in their mind. That depth of division, brought on by government policies, is part of the state of the state.
Returning to the Central Valley, farms that lay fallowed because of environmental regulation and rulings also means wealth has been destroyed by the government of the coast. Politically, it also means that the once powerful, conservative Central Valley has lost that power—a fact not lost on the Left, if not desired by the Left.
Division is so rampant in the state, that one of its brightest and most successful entrepreneurs and mentors of future capitalists, Tim Draper of the Silicon Valley, has launched an initiative drive to split the state into 6 states. Meanwhile, another successful entrepreneur, venture capitalist John Cox, has launched a “Neighborhood Legislature” ballot initiative to greatly expand the number of people involved in the political process.
Both believe the political system is broken. While you can argue whether either plan can work, if the questions they are raising have to be asked at all, it is a deep and negative reflection on the state of the state.
Returning to the ruling party Democrats, they like to crow that the state now has a balanced budget. The price for that success? California now has the highest tax rates in the country, with over half of the income taxes being paid by less than 145,000 people.
Of course, that means that the state of the economy is perched on a rickety ledge. Not to worry though, California has the strictest global warming laws in the world too—laws that current technology cannot satisfy. To the Left, that is their ideal state.
More to the point, the Democrats crowning achievement is that they have complied with the State Constitution, which requires a balanced budget. Of course, the last Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, squandered his opportunity to do the same.
Don’t get me wrong. Having a balanced budget is important. But it is the minimum government should achieve. It is simply the law. The problem is the division they are fostering to achieve it.
The foregoing, mind you, are just facts. While the state’s economy is doing better than in 2009, despite government policies, Jerry Brown will not let the above facts get in the way of his good story. For too many Californians, however, they represent the true, divided and troubled state of the state.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.