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The Terminator's Failed Legacy in California

Samuel Staley
December 19, 2010, 8:10am

California may have defied national political trends when it solidified Democratic Party bases at the state level and in its legislature, but the unfortuante reality is the state is heading toward fiscal insolvency and long-term economic disaster. Two articles are worth reading about the state's sorry economic and political state, both at the urban web site newgeography.com.

In the first, Joel Kotkin writes a sobering epitaph for Arnold Schwarzeneger's seven year tenure as governor. The Terminator did little to terminate the bickering, infighting, and largesse that is sinking state government and taking the rest of the state with it. Writes Kotkin:

"The Terminator came into office ostensibly to reform California politics, reduce taxation and “blow up the boxes” of the state’s bureaucracy. He failed on all three counts. The California political system–particularly after the GOP’s November Golden State wipeout–is, if anything, more dominated by public employee unions and special interests (including “green” venture capitalists) than when Gray Davis ruled. Taxes, despite efforts by members of Schwarzenegger’s own Republican Party, have steadily increased, mostly in the form of sales and other regressive taxes. The bureaucracy, with its huge pension costs,  continued to swell until this year even as state unemployment climbed well over double digits.

"Schwarzenegger’s fiscal street cred was undermined by his support for unessential new bond issues for such things as stem cell research and high-speed rail. He threw financial prudence out the window in order to appease his business cronies and faithful media claque, particularly those working for mainstream eastern media.

"Looking back, it seems difficult to remember that Schwarzenegger’s election initially thrilled the business community, who saw him as a counterweight to the dominant axis of unions and green zealots. “An army of entrepreneurs,” as I wrote around the 2003 recall, rallied around a self-made man who seemed to understand the challenges of running a business."

The result? Now the state is looking to former Oakland mayor and liberal Democratic Party political icon Jerry Brown to take the reins of government and steer a new, more sane course. Many doubt this will happen, but then it took Nixon to go to China.

The second article is by Californiia economist and demographer Bill Watkins, who asks the simple but prescient question: If California is doing so great, why are so many people leaving? And the numbers are staggering:

"How bad are things in California? California's domestic migration has been negative every year since at least 1990. In fact, since 1990, according to the U.S. Census, 3,642,490 people, net, have left California. If they were in one city, it would be the third largest city in America, with a population 800,000 more than Chicago and within 200,000 of Los Angeles’ population.

"We’re seeing a reversal of the depression-era migration from the Dust Bowl to California. While California has seen 3.6 million people leave, Texas has received over 1.4 million domestic migrants. Even Oklahoma and Arkansas have had net-positive domestic migration trends from California."

So, life is not looking so golden for the Golden State. The real question is: How much longer can California live in denial?


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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