News & Views from 465 California Street

Save California

Clint Reilly

Is California, once the striding colossus of the American economy, about to go the way of the Soviet Union?

In its final days, the USSR was a flailing giant – a paper superpower with an imploding economy and a deteriorating ability to exercise rational public policies.

Sounds a lot like the Golden State.

With an ossified and impotent state bureaucracy, diminishing public services and a wholesale meltdown of the California economy, the analogy isn’t too far-fetched.

Even the state’s leading historian, Dr. Kevin Starr, has his doubts about California’s ability to recover from its current downward spiral. Quoted in a recent article in Great Britain’s Sunday Guardian, Starr warned that California may become “America’s first failed state.”

Foreclosures have leveled suburbs from Riverside to Merced. California is home to one of every four mortgages in the country where the loan is worth more than the property.

Employment numbers have plunged even more dramatically. At 12.2 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1940s. In many areas of the state, the job picture is almost surreal. The central valley town of Mendota, for example, is grappling with 38 percent unemployment. Nearly 5,000 East Bay jobs will disappear in one broad stroke when Fremont’s NUMMI auto plant closes early next year.

There are other alarming crisis indicators as well. The poverty rate in Los Angeles has climbed to 20 percent. Our schools, once the backbone of California’s ingenuity and progress, are now ranked 47th out of 50 states. This, coupled with spiraling higher education costs, has resulted in a 13-percent reduction over eight years in the number of 19-year-old Californians enrolled in college.

This isn’t a game. Californians need to wake up to the urgency of the situation.

We may require an unprecedented federally funded Marshall Plan to create new jobs, repair our infrastructure and restart our housing market. These funds cannot be financed by a state government stalked by serial multi-billion-dollar deficits. Unlike the federal government, California cannot simply print more money to jumpstart the economy.

At the same time, we must reform our archaic, inefficient and ineffective state government, which hampers initiative and squanders irreplaceable dollars on short-term solutions and other wasteful policies.

Here’s what we can do:

First, we must elect a Democratic governor in 2010. Next year’s election comes at a crossroads for the state. Only a Democratic governor will be able to partner with President Obama and a Democratic House and Senate to obtain the massive federal resources necessary to revive our economy, rescue our schools and renew our infrastructure.

A Democratic governor working in concert with our congressional delegation and other Democrats in Washington will be better able to request – and receive – the federal dollars necessary to get the great Californian job machine cranking again.

Second, we can begin the serious business of reforming our beleaguered and dysfunctional state government.

The Bay Area Council, a Northern California business group disaffected with the perpetual dysfunction in Sacramento, is leading an innovative charge to restore sanity to the Capitol. Noting the failures of past reformers seeking incremental change through the initiative process, the Council is instead advocating for a constitutional convention that would rationalize and renew California’s constitution for the 21st century.

This convention might offer a way for citizens to make massive reforms. With a single bold stroke, voters could remake their state government. Issues addressed might include reducing special interest influence, term limits, budget reform, bureaucratic downsizing, the shape of both the Assembly and state Senate, and many other governance topics.

Instead of a pace of change too slow to be meaningful, a Constitutional Convention might give a new generation of Founding Fathers a chance to restore democratic values and renew democratic institutions.

Will California rise from the ashes as it has so many times before? Or will the state collapse under the mounting weight of its own failures? The decision is ours.

Comments (15)

  • I read your column in the Tri Valley Herald this morning entitled “Save California”.
    Every morning, as I get ready to go to work in my private sector job, I open the
    paper and am treated to a cadre of articles on how broke the state is, poor this,
    poor that, the big bad businesses and rich don’t pay their fair share and excreta
    and excreta. Now it’s my turn.

    I have one question for you, have you gone completely mad? Suggesting that we
    elect a Democratic governor to work with President Obama who in turn will commit to
    recapitalize and restore California to its former greatness is like suggesting that
    all Californians have “666” tattooed to their foreheads. We have the most
    dysfunctional and corrupt state government in the country. Our legislature
    consists of a band of arrogant self serving elitists who are supported by public
    employee unions, entitlement recipients, the families of illegal aliens,
    environmental fanatics, the plaintiff’s bar, large corporations and the gay lobbies
    amongst others. The rest of us, the private sector tax payers and small business
    owners foot the bill while they enjoy their perks and positions of power. Do you
    honestly think that the rest of the country would foot the bill for a California
    bailout with this crew in power?

    Since the 1960s, they have managed to take the most prosperous state in the union
    and turn in into a laughing stock of blighted infrastructure, lost businesses,
    schools that are more concerned with indoctrinating children into becoming good
    tolerant comrades than teaching reading, writing and arithmetic; while boasting the
    largest protected entitled illegal alien population in the country. How did this
    happen you say? It happened because the worst of the east coast liberals that
    immigrated to California during the Vietnam War, and their offspring, came into
    power. The result; they created a failed debt ridden prototype socialist state
    and a look at the possible future of the United States if people don’t wake up soon.

    Most of the people I talk to outside the state get it. There will be no financial
    bailout for those that have failed and miss managed California . If the
    California governor and legislature worked in a private company, they would have
    been fired decades ago. Unfortunately, they learned all too well that if you make
    people dependent on government for their livelihood, they will vote for you despite
    your management failures. If the governor and the legislature did their jobs,
    there would be no reason for the people to intervene in government with an
    initiative process.

    In conclusion, I suggest that you start lobbing for a part time legislature not a
    Democrat governor, constitutional convention and a bailout. The legislature has
    way too much time on its hands and zero focus on real issues. This is why they
    pass almost 1,000 pieces of useless legislation a year but never focus on issues
    like tort reform or infrastructure issues. However, they do pass legislation that
    strips us of our bill of rights one piece at a time, imposes massive tax burdens and
    regulation, drives out business and capable people, fanatically feigns unbalanced
    environmental protection, caudles prison inmates, ignores the fact that our
    infrastructure was only built to support half of the population, creates schools
    that rank 47 th in the nation, does not provide for new power plants, and makes us
    fear for our safety. They staunchly refuse to reform the criminal and civil
    justice systems which have become nothing more than employers for the attorneys in
    this state who legally extort money from taxpayers and individuals every day. How
    about real tort reform? Finally, just ask the farmers in the central valley what
    they think of our illustrious state government that you are so anxious to bail out.
    I mean, what the heck, we’ve chased just about every business and well to do
    individual that we can out of the state, why not go for the farmers next. I don’t
    see the governor or the legislature in Obama’s face demanding that the feds turn the
    water back on in a big nasty public way, do you?

    It’s time to get off the idealistic high horse and get real.

    BTW, I’m an independent who is an issue voter, so don’t be too quick to dismiss my
    opinions as those of a FOX news watching right wing Neanderthal. I’m a California
    native that cares deeply about our state and wants it to be healthy once again.

    Posted by: M. Johnson | October 13th, 2009 at 10:27 am

  • Here’s a newsflash for you, just in case your democrat blinders are on too
    tight: the real reason California is in the toilet and not likely any too
    soon to get out of the toilet is DEMOCRATS (better known as national and
    international socialists), and the spineless jellyfish rinos that are their

    You think things are bad now? Try having nothing but socialists, oops,
    democrats running the entire show; we’ll be as broke financially and
    morally as the the federal gubmunt under the current collection of
    communists and useful idiots (Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the rest of their
    communist ilk) that ignore the Constitution.

    Man, you just didn’t dive headfirst into the koolaid vat, you’re actually
    breathing the vile stuff.

    Posted by: M. Martin | October 13th, 2009 at 10:28 am

  • I agree with your column today, especially about the Democratic
    governor in 2010 as long as it is not Jerry Brown.

    Seriously, on the issue of unemployment: there are thirty houses on my
    end of Cranford Circle in San Jose. Twenty four high tech workers live
    here. Twelve of us are unemployed or underemployed. Not all show up
    in the statistics as most have used up our unemployment insurance,
    some are retired or underemployed. I wish I could be optimistic about
    the future of California or the future of the United States.

    J. Konsevich

    Posted by: J. Konsevich | October 13th, 2009 at 10:28 am

  • The last thing we need is to spend more money.? We need to freeze hiring in all
    government departments and get them use to doing more with less. As a taxpayer I am
    through funding masive government spending with no results.

    I am one of a large group whicj=h will leave California the minute my kids are out
    of the house.

    Sacramento blew? it

    Posted by: M. McGoldrick | October 13th, 2009 at 10:29 am

  • I really have to agree with all of the previous comments especially the one about electing a democratic governor. I guess this would be a smart political move although I feel that our current governor is “really” a democrat in sheeps clothing. Anyhow joining Obama’s movement to change our country into a socialist economy is not the answer. Just wait until the people in Detroit realize that no company in its right mind would move jobs to that city and then the riots begin….

    Posted by: David Brusiee | October 13th, 2009 at 11:43 am

  • How can I sign up to help manifest a Constitutional Convention. We need one NOW! Please advise.
    Thanks, Jay K.

    Posted by: Jay K. | October 13th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

  • The federal government will not assist California financially in a significant way until Proposition 13 is repealed.

    The Obama administration has already quietly signaled this to state officials.

    Is this what you are really advocating?

    Posted by: Rick | October 13th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

  • We were quite taken aback by your observations in today’s paper. While your
    concerns are certainly valid, some of your conclusions seem to us pretty far afield.

    Focusing entirely on the state of the state of California, we find it difficult to
    believe that you think a Democrat for governor would solve our problems. The
    legislature of California has been controlled by the Democratic party for many, many
    years. They are the ones who make the laws, support the initiative process and who
    have gotten us into our current morass. How in the world would adding a Democratic
    governor to this inept group improve on that?

    It is our belief that the current Republican governor is the only sane political
    leader operating in Sacramento. He is doing his level best to cut costs and get
    expenditures to a place where we can afford them. He is fighting an uphill battle
    against a bunch of people who want to give everybody everything they want whether
    the rest of us can afford it or not. And for his heroic efforts he is constantly
    criticized by the media.

    Looking to the federal government to bail us out only extends the problem.
    Ultimately, we still have to fund whatever level of government is “providing” for
    us. In the end, it is we taxpayers who still have to pay the bills.

    A couple of weeks ago, you made another disturbing comment in your column. You
    claimed that elected leaders in our government are there to serve the people. While
    there may be a few who are truly altruistic, the great majority of them are there
    primarily to serve themselves. If you doubt that, just look at the bloated salaries
    they vote for themselves, the outrageously expensive retirement plans they vote for
    themselves, the gold-plated health plan coverage they vote for themselves, the
    unbelievable “perks” they give themselves for expenses, travel, vacations, etc.,
    etc. And who gets stuck for all these bills? Again, it’s the taxpayers.

    Interestingly enough, many of these people are more than well-to-do in their own
    right, but they would rather spend our money on themselves than theirs.

    Thank you for listening to our concerns.

    Clare and Marilyn

    Posted by: Clare and Marilyn | October 13th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

  • Hi Clint, read your column today, actually I almost always read your column. Don’t
    always agree, but find them interesting and thoughtful. You and Beth Ashley, every
    Tuesday (please forgive my shade of sarcasm here.) With respect to today’s
    column, Tuesday 10-13. I am utterly furious at California’s financial fiasco. My
    son, Mark Kisbey, was a passenger in a car that was hit by a drunk driver when he
    was 19 in 1973. Mark has a traumatic brain injury thanx to that accident. The
    drunk 19 year old that hit Mark’s car spent one month in jail with the judge
    declaring at sentenceing — “well, he’s just a kid!” The idiot seemed not to notice
    or care that Mark, also, was just a kid, laying unconscious in a San Francisco
    General hospital bed at the time, his very survival in question. With respect to
    that situation, the Chief of Police of San Francisco said in open court in 1976 or
    so during our civil suit, speaking of police responsibilities, “We don’t protect
    citizens, we just catch criminals.” I’ll never forget it. So much for a
    trustworthy justice system. But back to today and the latest stab at Mark in his

    Our local Social Service Department cut Mark’s IHSS hours by 75% this past year,
    some young, whippersnapper of a social worker determining that Mark was independent
    because he can walk to the Bolinas Road 7-11 in Fairfax and back. The young man had
    served as an intern in an Adult Day Care Center in S. F., where there were two guys
    with a TBI, thus he seemed to feel he was an expert in the field. TBI is a
    horrendously complicated injury, complicated even more in trying to deal with it on
    a societal basis because the outcome of the injury can be so broad — from being
    able to return to your normal life, to being stuck in a bed in a coma, unable to
    function normally on any level, to being left with the impossible cognitive problems
    that plague people like Mark — problems that make Mark’s daily life a strange and
    inglorious mishmass of behaviours and experiences that make it impossible for him to
    live independently — per ye social worker. But enough of this.

    Obviously I am furious about this latest unjust turn of events for Mark; actually
    I’m 36 years furious at my son’s situation that just seems to go on and on and on.
    One of the things that makes me maddest about this financial circus in California
    today, is the amount of money we spent on people coming here illegally — and some
    legally. Money doled out by the oh so generous state Latino Legislative Caucus led
    by Gil Cedillo who expressed his favoritism over and over for the past 15 years or
    so. The problem, of course, it was money we couldn’t afford — not if we meant,
    hoped, expected to care for our own needy citizens, like Mark. And uncared for they
    are fast becoming.

    You may not feel about illegal immigration as I do. I know the status of that
    situation on the scale of the “politically correct’. However, I prefer sound
    thinking, of which we have little — certainly little here in the S. F. Bay
    Area. Anyway, I’m writing to ask you to elucidate on today’s column. Name the
    errors you speak of, lay them all out to be examined and hopefully realized by the
    general public. What was done or not done in your view that helped create this
    financial brouhaha . I’d like to hear what you have to say.

    Posted by: Jenny H. | October 14th, 2009 at 10:17 am

  • Your Oct 13 column demonstrates only your sole commitment
    to get Democrats into every political position in the country – sort
    of like the old USSR system, isn’t it? But I wouldn’t have expected
    anything different from someone who only knows sucking at the public

    Your claim of solving California’s fiscal problems is to get a
    Democrat governor in 2010 – stating “Only a Democratic gove.

    Guess what? They’ve been in control of the legislature for years, and
    it hasn’t mattered WHO the governor is. The Democrats ARE the problem
    - they’d love nothing more than to completely redistribute everyone’s
    finances – under the guise of “fairness”. I notice YOU’RE not donating
    YOUR millions of dollars. Put up or shut the hell up.

    Give me a break. You’re nothing more than a shill for the corrupt and
    socialistic Democrap party; frankly, I think YOU should be
    investigated for providing all of this free campaign info for those

    Posted by: Fred P. | October 14th, 2009 at 10:18 am

  • There are some good ideas in your writ; but don’t you think the overall
    appearance is of a one-party authority? Your phrase…”one bold stroke” is
    reminiscent of a WWII tactic. I think it was called “Blitzkrieg.”

    Posted by: Hank R. | October 14th, 2009 at 10:18 am

  • Proposition 13 has shifted most of the property tax load onto
    residential homeowners as properties change hands over the years,
    while businesses squat at the same locations for decades enjoying the
    same low property tax rates. This is unfair and detrimental to the
    state in its ability to collect the money necessary to govern

    • Restoring democracy to California’s governance by eliminating the
    2/3rds vote requirement to get anything passed in the state
    legislature. Until then the state will never be able to impose an oil
    extraction fee as do most other oil-producing states, including Alaska
    (25%!), Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota – or pass a budget on time!

    The first step is the education of the state’s citizenry, given that a
    majority are loath to overturn Prop 13 and are unclear on the
    ramifications of the undemocratic 2/3rds vote. People need to have a
    clear picture of just how much these two misguided laws cost them in
    reduction of essential services, such as schools, infrastructure such
    as water, sewer, streets and highways, and amenities such as parks and
    open space.

    The several other issues you mention also need to be addressed, I
    agree. We do need to “restore democratic values and renew democratic

    Posted by: Louisa | October 14th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

  • You can’t possibly be serious that you think a democratic governor in this state
    will make it better. IT WILL ONLY MAKE IT WORSE! The democratically-controlled
    legislature in this state have run it into the ground financially. They spend every
    dollar that comes in and still the state is broke and yet they continue to borrow
    for everything under the sun. I can’t believe your proposal that we continue to
    spend ourselves into oblivian then ask the federal government to bail us out. That’s
    insane! Everytime you ask the federal government for money strings are attached. Why
    don’t we just ask to give up the sovereingty of California and let the federal
    government just take it over. There is no self-control in the legislature when it
    comes to adding new regulations to businesses in this state. California now has the
    contention of being considered one of the top states of being unfriendly to
    business. We have the highest level of taxation and one of the highest sales taxes
    rates in the nation except for Chicago and New York City and it is going to get
    worse when global-warming taxes that punish manufacturing jobs for CO2 emissions in
    this state start kicking in. This will drive away even more manufacturing jobs that
    pay well. This state is saddled with multi-billion deficits because they keep
    spending money they don’t have. Basic economics 101: You can’t spend what you don’t
    have. Anybody with a brain who runs a business or has a home with a budget knows
    that. The Legislature seems to think they can spend all they want and not have to
    worry about the consequences. WRONG!

    A few additional facts you failed to include with your article. The reason the city
    of Mendota has a 38% unemployment rate is because the environmentalists have taken
    the water rights away from farmers and used it to save the smelt. You want to eat
    don’t you? Where do you think your food is grown in this state comes from when it
    gets to the supermarket? Environmentalists and their burdensome regulations on
    businesses in this state have absolutely ruined it.

    The poverty rate of 20% in Los Angeles school districts is because most of the kids
    in those schools are from illegal immigrants and we pay the price. You should
    include that tid-bit of information in your article.

    Again, if you think a democratic governor and democratically-controlled legislature
    in this state will make it better you are seriously deluded! If you think that
    putting our hand out to Washington to ask for more money is the answer, again you
    are deluded! What do you want? The Feds to be co-enablers to allow us to continue
    spending what we don’t have and they supply the difference? Why should the tax
    payers of the other 49 states have to contribute tax dollars to our state because we
    can’t get our house in order?

    Posted by: Renea | October 15th, 2009 at 10:30 am

  • Save the state by spending more money after spending ourselves into the toilet.
    As the Guinness beer commercial says, Brilliant!

    Posted by: bob | October 18th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

  • California Unemployment Trends – September 2009

    California Unemployment Trends Visualized as a Heat Map:
    California Unemployment in September 2009 (BLS data)

    versus California Unemployment Levels 1 year ago

    Posted by: Pete | October 26th, 2009 at 7:28 am

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