Despite this, the tone of the article is somewhat hopeful, citing
California's leadership in the new green economy, and the possibility
that a constitutional convention might break the legislative gridlock
that has all but destroyed the state's ability to govern itself. Whether
this optimism is warranted, of course, is far more problematical.
Part of the problem is that about 40% of the voters in this state worked
long and hard to bring this catastrophe about. Going back to the days of
Jarvis and Gramm in the 1970s, the Republican party has had an ongoing
“tax revolt”, the goals of which were to reduce taxes, shift more taxes
from the rich to the middle class, and, in the unforgettable phrase of
Grover Norquist, “make government small enough that you can drown it in
Well, mission accomplished, Grover. Prop 13 was only the first of the
tax changes that gave the wealthy huge tax breaks at the expense of
everyone else. The Republicans managed to get through a constitutional
amendment that required a supermajority of 67% for any “revenue
enhancing” bill. As a result, a bill could have the support of all 80 of
the assemblymen, and 26 of the 40 senators, and fail because it didn't
have 67% in both houses. Since even now when they are widely hated and
despised, Republicans can manage to get one third of the seats in one
house or the other, that means they had an effective stranglehold, not
just on “revenue enhancing” legislation, but on the annual budget. The
results, year after year, were grotesque scenes of a large majority of
the legislators trying to find something, anything, that would placate
Republicans who basically wanted the entire process to fail, and would
often get one Republican to cave, ending the impasse, but only after
costing the state additional billions in lowered credit rating and late
payment on bills. Remember, these guys don't want to just put government
in its place: they want to drown it in the bathtub. When they did lose,
they usually drove the weak link out of office in the next election.
A lot of their philosophy stemmed from pure selfishness: the government
was for little people. They didn't need it. If you can afford security
guards and private firefighting outfits (yes, there are such things in
California) then why pay to have everyone protected? If workers are
poor, it is because they lack any drive, and thus deserve to be poor.
But they can't unionize—that would be cheating. Real workers take on
major corporations, man-to-man! One on one, baby, just you against
WalMart! Now that's a fair fight! Not to vilify WalMart; while they
certainly still have their faults, they have recognized that the
Republican ideology has the effect of driving the state at a brick wall
at 80 miles an hour and have broken ranks, demanding a public option in
health care and a higher minimum wage for employees.
Other companies have been leaving California, not because the tax burden
is so high (it's actually among the lowest in the country) but because
the infrastructure is so badly damaged. With poor or no public
transportation, employees must drive to work in increasingly older cars
and over more and more potholes. Californians are rapidly becoming less
educated as the public school system collapses, and sicker because there
is no public health system at all. And a lot of businesses who once saw
the residents of the Golden State as their best customers are learning,
to their chagrin, that people who don't have money can't buy stuff.
California at one point was one sixth of the entire American economy. If
it collapses, America isn't very far behind.
At best, California will end up pretty much like India, with a thin scum
of ultra wealthy floating uneasily on a heaving sea of tens of millions
of people living in poverty. They will face the fact that few areas in
the state will be safe to travel without an armed guard, and that there
will be huge population pressure (high birthrates occur in countries
where people are convinced that they need to have lots of kids in hopes
that enough will survive to take care of them in their old age), crime,
and pollution. Los Angeles will be as blighted and despoiled as Bombay,
or New Delhi. Government's only role will be to defend the rich from the
millions and millions of people whose birthright they stole.
At worst, it will be another Somalia. Or Afghanistan.
This is the social miracle of Republicanism, taken to its logical end.
They deny people a voice in government and aid of any sort, arguing they
should be self reliant, then take away the very tools the people need,
such as representative government, the right to sue (that would be “tort
reform,” better known as “legal shielding of irresponsible
corporations”) and right to unionize.
The sad thing is that the sixty-five percent of Californians who are
acting in good faith and understand that a clean, efficient, modern
society comes with a price tag have been trying to overcome the
depredations of the I-Me-Mine GOP. A lot of state services and projects
are funded through bonds in the state initiative process, usually
employed after it became clear it could never get the required
supermajority in both houses in Sacramento.
But that actually added to the problem, because while the initiatives
provided much-needed funding for education, roads, prisons, and public
transportation, they were also inflexible. It would mandate X amount
each year, and thus set the state in a trap where nearly 70% of the
budget was mandatory spending, meaning that if revenues dipped, say from
a major recession, all the cuts had to come in the 30% of the budget
that was “discretionary”. That meant most social services, including the
vestigial public health and welfare. In other words, the people most
vulnerable in an economic downturn are the most hard-hit.
The next primary election, Spring of 2010, is the last chance California
has to use the initiative process to strike down the super majority
requirement and make state government functional again. I'm not sure
California will make it that long, let alone to the November 2010 election.
The poverty rate in California is exploding, reaching 50% in some of the
counties that depend on Agriculture or are rural (logging, tourism). At
least five million Californians don't have medical coverage, or any form
of dentistry available. State maintenance crews are becoming a rare
sight, and roads are deteriorating even faster. Nearly a third of the
mortgages in the state are either defaulted, or “under water” and likely
to be defaulted on.
Worse, the level of utter destitution, where people are literally living
by begging or foraging dumpsters for food, is beginning to climb as
unemployment and welfare begin to dry up. With unemployment officially
at 12% (and unofficially around 20%) there are no jobs for these people,
there is no safety net, and there is no hope.
That is a fantastically dangerous position for a first world state to
find itself in.
Riots are the least of my worries. Riots tend to be limited in scope,
and burn themselves out rapidly, due mostly to their self-destructive
nature. The last large bout of riots was in South Central, and the LAPD
basically dealt with them by running away and hiding. They stopped after
a few days, for the simple reason that it's hard to strike a blow for
justice when the only targets in sight are your own friends and neighbors.
Insurrection and revolution are in the state's future if it doesn't
change its course. Make no mistake: these are horrible alternatives. The
American example notwithstanding, most revolutions end badly. Think
France in 1789, or Spain in 1936. It's just not a sign of valor or love
of freedom; it's a sign of desperation and need for simple justice.
California is teetering on the edge of an abyss. It's not too late at
this point, but if action isn't taken soon to end the Republican
experiment in small ineffectual government, California faces either the
repressive anarchy of no government at all, or the tyranny of a police
state devoted to serving the rich rather than the people.
Time is running out.