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The ‘Another Fine Mess’ That is California

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-06-21 23:59:11. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

As Featured On EzineArticlesIn the immortal words of Laurel and Hardy: “Here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into.”

And there’s probably no better way to describe the situation that California, this once prosperous state, which from the days of the gold rush has attracted millions to its Pacific shores has found itself in. Its golden image, once a magnet for the ambitious, talented or simply enchanted by the beauty of its land and people, is now tarnished by years of fiscal mismanagement and irresponsible government spending.

It is wondrous indeed to note how a state with such riches in natural resources and richness in the diversity of its people can find itself in such financial ruin. The state of California (which if it were a country would be the 8th largest economy in world) has found itself unable to fund its current fiscal deficit exceeding $24 billion and service its debt of over $72 billion to its bond holders. By any standard definition of insolubility, the state of California is bankrupt. And while teetering on the brink of being in default of its obligations, interestingly the state’s constitution explicitly does not allow it to declare bankruptcy – a curious dilemma.

The reasons which have brought California to this sad financial state are well known and documented. Summarized, it could be captured in the simple premise of having made too many promises without the wherewithal to deliver on them. These include promises made to government employees, such as in cases of retirees ending up with multiple pensions, some in the six figures. They include overly generous social programs, extending across citizens and non-citizens alike; lax enforcement of state entitlements; increasingly hostile tax burden on businesses including a state sales tax approaching double digits. Also most would target the ineffective state constitution which mandates a 60% majority in the state senate to enact major financial reform. By all practical terms such majority has been virtually impossible to achieve, resulting in stalemate on any attempts to curb the state’s insatiable spending appetite.

Whereas the causes of the states virtual collapse can (and will be) studied by many social economist and political analysts, the practical matter of how to address the dilemma and provide a sustainable solution to the California crisis remains. Prior attempts by its governor Schwartzenegger to seek a federal bailout have fallen on deaf ears of President Obama, and rightfully so as the precedent set by such action would be dangerous and ridden with consequences beyond our ability to predict. Furthermore, no constitutional authority has either originally or through any amendments been granted to the federal government to provide for such a bailout.

So what options exist for California? The ones most commonly discussed include:

1. Providing government credit guarantees of California’s debt have been floated (CBS News Story) but generally discounted as too temporary and not addressing the core of the state’s fiscal crisis. Furthermore, guarantees of such an amount could negatively impact on the credit rating of the US government, which itself is struggling with mounting debt and looming inflation. As traditional with the democratic liberal wing, its chief democratic rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services is in support of such measures.

2. Allowing the state to default on its obligations has also been floated, but appears to have the support of only the most extreme faction of constitutionalists. Opponents argue that this would undoubtedly create a dangerous ripple effect throughout the US economy, the cost of which would potentially exceed any bailout which would be offered to the state.

3. Aggressive tax increases (primarily in the form of sales taxes) to compensate for the precipitous fall in tax revenues have the support of many of the liberal democrats in the state senate. However, under the terms of the state’s Proposition 13, their enactment has become a virtual impossibility due to the 60% majority provision. Furthermore, California residents have over the last years become increasingly more vocal against that state’s excessive tax rates, further diminishing the possibility of any such actions.

What is discouraging is that no significant momentum exists behind a movement to address what is the root cause of the state’s troubles – state government inaction and excessive tax burdens. In order, first the state needs to procedurally address the ineffective provisions of its state constitution, including Proposition 13. Armed with new powers to reduce the tax burden on its citizens and enterprises, a well targeted reduction in state business taxes, and either personal income taxes or sales taxes would restore vibrancy to the California economy and begin to again attract new investments and spur an influx of productive sectors of the population back to the state.

While in 2005 the US Census was projecting California as one of the states with highest growth rates, in the recent years of financial turmoil the opposite has begun to occur, with residence relocating to less tax onerous states, among them Florida, Nevada or Texas, each with no state income tax.

Tax incentives (instead of tax penalties) have time and again shown that the empowered individual and the entrepreneurial nature which he harnesses are the most effective tools to bring about economic growth and financial health. California would do well by heeding to one of its greatest son’s prolific advice:

“I don’t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.”
“The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away.”

 Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004)


It would be wise for the California governor and state senators to read their state motto (“Eureka”) and in it recognize that the solution to their state’s woes has already been found, tried and proven. All they need to do is act on it.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. April Says:

    Pretty cool post. I just found your site and wanted to say
    that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts. Anyway
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. admin Says:

    April – thanks for the comment. This site is still being worked on and we are experimenting with the format and styles. Our main site is at where we publish all of our articles, at least a few each week. Thanks for being a reader and comment contributor.


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