Sliding Into The Sea

Published on June 3rd, 2009

California’s reckoning is at hand

By Mark Cromer

In the aftermath of one of the angriest voter rebukes of government in modern California history, the bi-partisan shellshock that remains on display in Sacramento does not auger well for the state’s ability to pull out of its fiscal death spiral.

The series of ballot initiatives that were pitched by the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature as the last chance to avoid a budgetary Armageddon evaporated amid a mushroom cloud of voter disgust. Ash was still in the air as legislators staggered around muttering bitterly about “the voters,” like parents that had reached the end of their patience with their special-needs child.

John Burton, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, angrily declared that the election demonstrated Californians want government services without having to pay for them.

“People are going to have to figure out: Do they want schools, do they want roads, do they want public safety, do they want to take care of the less fortunate?” Burton said. “At some point, that’s going to happen.”

The establishment media has since crackled with analysis that fundamentally echoed Burton’s dismissive retort to the voter backlash, accusing Californians of electoral schizophrenia by demanding expensive services in flush times, then railing like a mob of misers when the well runs dry and they discover there are no reserves.

Their interpretation signals, in very real terms, that the professional politicians in Sacramento have now lost all touch with the middle-class voter in California. Burton’s surreal comments highlight the volatile disconnect between the state capital and Main Street.

California’s voters indeed want good schools, paved roads, cops on the beat, firemen on watch and a safety net for fellow citizens—and they have long paid some of the highest taxes in the nation to ensure those services.

The trouble for Sacramento is the return they’ve delivered on taxpayers’ investment.

Voters see public school districts that are overwhelmed and failing; infrastructure that is crumbling; police and fire services that are pushed to the breaking point by violent gangs and wildfires; and a social safety net that has been converted into a de facto welfare subsidy for millions of illegal immigrants.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is a smoldering testament to the mediocrity and malfeasance that has spread across California; where tens of billions of tax dollars have been thrown into capital investments and instruction throughout the sprawling school district, only to produce a 50-percent dropout rate and functionally illiterate graduates. The district’s 2008 Academic Performance Index (API) score is 681, not even close to the goal of 800 set by Sacramento. And that score is significantly lower among the vast majority of the district’s 700,000 students.

One major newspaper headline warned after the election that 19,000 illegal immigrant prisoners will be released into federal custody as a result of budget cuts—as if that is some sort of dire consequence. The irony is that most Californians would like to see those illegal immigrants—and millions of others in the state—taken into federal custody and deported back to their home countries.

A sweeping majority of California’s voters have simply decided they have had enough. Dire warnings from Sacramento of “brutal cuts” looming for the budget are meaningless in such a dysfunctional environment.

While some in the media pretend that the message voters sent is either muddled or contradictory, the fact is it couldn’t be more clear: voters would rather pay less for the failure they now assume will result regardless of how much government spends.

Californians have lost virtually all confidence in our state government’s desire and ability to restore accountability and produce meaningful results.

It’s a verdict that has plunged political elites in Sacramento and their cohorts in the establishment media into the five stages of grief: denial, anger and bargaining are the first to come, followed by depression.

And finally, acceptance.

Sooner or later Sacramento must accept that the long party is over. Our leaders must acknowledge that dramatic budget cuts have to be followed by a sober reassessment of our state’s population growth and the revenue schemes and wild spending it has indulged to accommodate that growth.

At long last, California is sliding into the sea.

The question now is: does it remember how to swim?

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization.

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