Are we Californians living through a Charles Dickens novel? “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”
A balanced state budget; unfathomable debt obligations.
A winter climate that makes the rest of the country jealous; a catastrophic drought that cripples the agriculture economy.
Boom in the high tech zones; record setting poverty in the state as a whole.
The national media hails the California comeback but barely notes the state’s dark side. California’s reputation as the lodestar for the nation is challenged by cruel reality.
There are political solutions for all the “worst of times” problems listed above. In fact there are different solutions – the “best” solution depends on whom you ask.
For me, reasonable and necessary adjustments to the state worker obligations, reservoirs for water storage, and a more business friendly environment would go far to attack the problems of debt, drought and poverty.
Politicians cannot control all aspects of situations that lead to difficult days. As the governor said of the drought, “Governors can’t make it rain.” But poor policies, often driven by special interests, can lead to the “worst of times.” The saving grace is that such policies can be corrected with political will.
However, when the message is that things are A-OK, that the state is on the road to recovery, then the lingering problems that present the worst of times are not treated.
The fear is that policy changes will not occur until a tipping point is reached – for example, when retirement or health obligations for workers leave too small of the money pie to cover basic governmental services.
Where are the voters on a “best of times” – “worst of times” scale? The recent PPIC poll indicated that 53% thought California was going in the right direction, 41% said the wrong direction. However, when asked if in the next 12 months the state would have good times financially or bad times the resulting response fell within the poll’s margin of error: 49% good times, 45% bad times.
If these voters are right, California could tip either way.
Politicians can change the prospects associated with the worst of times. But it takes courage for politicians to accept solutions to problems that could go against the special interests that helped elect them. If they take that bold step, they can say, as Dickens wrote for one of his characters, “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.”