As with the old party bosses in Russia, [Jerry] Brown’s distinct lack of courage has only worsened California’s lurch toward fiscal and economic disaster. Yet as the budget woes worsen, other Californians, including some Democrats, are beginning to recognize the need for perestroika in the Golden State. This was most evident in the overwhelming vote last week in two key cities, San Diego and San Jose, to reform public employee pensions, a huge reversal after decades of ever more expansive public union power in the state.
California’s “progressive” approach has been enshrined in what is essentially a one-party state that is almost Soviet in its rigidity and inability to adapt to changing conditions. With conservatives, most businesses and taxpayer advocates marginalized, California politics has become the plaything of three powerful interest groups: public-sector unions, the Bay Area/Silicon Valley elite and the greens. Their agendas, largely unrestrained by serious opposition, have brought this great state to its knees.
California’s ruling troika has been melded by a combination of self-interest and a common ideology. Their ruling tenets center on support for an ever more intrusive, and expensive, state apparatus; the need to turn California into an Ecotopian green state; and a shared belief that the “genius” of Silicon Valley can pay for all of this.
Now this world view is foundering on the rocks of economic reality. Californians suffer from a combination of high taxes and intrusive regulation coupled with a miserable education system — the state’s students now rank 47th in science achievement — and a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.
The current recession has been particularly severe, [and] according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California study, inequality in the devoutly “progressive” state has been growing much faster than in the rest of the country.
The most auspicious sign of grassroots support for perestroika was last week’s smack down of public employee unions in San Jose and San Diego. For the first time in recent memory, the unions suffered a humiliating defeat — the measures passed by a margin greater than two to one — as voters endorsed deep reform of the pension burdens bringing these cities to the brink of bankruptcy. Backed by its Democratic mayor, Chuck Reed, San Jose’s measure B aims to reduce pension benefits for both future and current hires. Unsurprisingly, the public employee have threatened to sue.
This may precipitate what could become the California equivalent of a prairie fire. Like San Jose and San Diego, many other California cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Union-dominated Los Angeles could be the next big domino to fall, according to the city’s own chief administrative office, and has been forced to boost its bonded indebtedness and cut back on critical infrastructure spending to stave off the inevitable.
As services drop and taxes rise — California’s already are among the nation’s highest — voters increasingly realize that one of the main problems is over-generous pensions for public sector workers. This is reflected in the sad reality that the state consistently competes with Illinois for the worst bond rating in the country. Most recently, the state upped its deficit estimate to $16 billion from a $9.2 billion estimate made just in January.