By Randy Alcorn
Beginning his second term as California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has proposed that the state incur another $43 billion in bond debt to build more prisons, schools, and dams. This proposed debt would be added to the nearly $43 billion for various state infrastructure and education projects that voters approved in the November 2006 general election. Since the debt service on such borrowing is typically as great as the principal being borrowed, the cost of all this public debt could total $172 billion.
The governor says that California is a big state with big needs. By big he does not mean square miles as much as he means population. Because of the huge, perennial influx of foreign immigrants, the population of California has nearly doubled over the past three decades to nearly 40 million people, and the composition of that population has changed significantly during that time. In a recent 15-year period, 1990-2005, the population of the state increased by 6.3 million, up 21%. During the same 15-year period, the state’s Hispanic population increased by slightly over 5 million, up 65%, accounting for 80% of the state’s overall population growth.
California is and has been one of the preferred destinations for foreign immigrants, especially illegal immigrants. Given its shared border with Mexico, its Spanish heritage, and its vibrant economy, California is a desirable destination for the desperately poor from Mexico and Central America. The great growth in California’s population over the past three decades is mostly attributable to this influx of foreign immigrants and to their prolific procreation.
Unless this pace of population growth is reduced or reversed, California will no longer be the Golden State. It may well become the iron pyrites state. Not only will unchecked population growth overwhelm each round of new infrastructure building and require California to take on more public debt to build even more infrastructure, it will also diminish the personal economic welfare of millions of Californians and increase the size and cost of government.
No place can increase population without limit. It is simply physically impossible. Eventually not only the quality of life is diminished, but also life itself is threatened when essential resources are taxed beyond replenishment. Therefore, at some point, rational consideration must be given to arresting further population increases and, even, to reducing current soaring population levels. Determining when that point has been reached is, of course, the essential decision, and is where the immediate vagaries of politics interfere with rational deliberation.
Many political and business leaders think of population increases as not only inevitable but also as beneficial. While continual population growth works to the short-term political or economic advantage of a minority of politicians and business interests, eventually, and for most people, it is detrimental.
There are quality of life issues and economic issues to consider, and often the two are interrelated. The degradation of the natural environment, the congestion, and the social ills that attend increasing population diminishes the quality of life while the escalating cost to taxpayers to fund more government programs and infrastructure attempting to accommodate more population, diverts funds from individual incomes, increases the size and scope of government, and can never really keep pace with relentless population growth.
By proposing a state mandated health insurance program that would cover all residents of California, including illegal aliens, the Governor is not only moving away from addressing the source of our common problem, he is encouraging more of it by providing another attractive benefit to entice more immigrants, both legal and illegal, into the state.
The state health care system is currently straining under the financial weight of serving so many patients who do not pay for that service. Part of the rationale for the governor’s universal health care proposal is to spread the financial burden for providing legally required medical services to people who cannot pay for them. Mandatory health insurance is hoped to prevent more clinics and hospitals from closing down due to bankruptcy induced from providing uncompensated services. But, if immigration is not curbed there will be ceaseless demand for more health care for which Californians will have to pay one way or another.
California is the cultural-political laboratory for American social experiments, and will likely determine the direction the nation takes in managing population growth. If Governor Schwarzenegger wants to move California and the nation toward rational, effective solutions to current problems and to secure a favorable future for Californians and all Americans, borrowing more money to build more infrastructure is less important than addressing what has generated the need to borrow and build—and that is relentless population growth.
Big is not necessarily better.