Thursday, February 18, 2010

California's Case For Worst

It was high comedy if not so tragic that zillions of readers responded to a Gail Collins column in the New York Times pitching their states as the worst in the nation. Illinois, New York and New Jersey were the top contenders.

May I offer California?

We on the Left Coast may lack in crooks in our state government but not in futility.

Exhibit A: Have you noticed the U.S. Senate can't get much done because of the 60-vote rule? In California, the threshold is a two-thirds (67%) supermajority to pass the state budget.

Unlike most states, California's economic woes exacerbated by the recession represent not only a dysfunctional government but a irresponsible citizenry. Yeah, you read that correctly.

Because of lax requirements making it easy to place initiatives on the ballot, Californians are ahead of the national curve in such areas as curbs on property tax levies, mandatory educational spending and bond issues financing stem cell research and a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

These are all fine in good times. These are not good times. The result is that California's bond rating is zilch. In man-in-the-street terms, that's a credit rating under 200.

What's a governor to do? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plea for more bailout funds from Congress fell on deaf ears. Arnie was not pleased when he learned Ben Nelson horse collared his cronies to pay for all its additional MediCaid costs forever in the Senate's healthcare bill.

Some think the Terminator ought to resort to his own devises. One solution is for California to secede from the Union, declare war on the United States by firing an unmanned, unarmed missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, concede defeat and receive foreign aid to rebuild. At least the feds can print its own money which states can't as well as that tacky requirement of balancing their budgets.

Or, California voters could elect Prince Frederic von Anhalt, eighth husband of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who filed candidacy papers for governor Tuesday. His platform to reduce the state's growing $20 billion deficit by leveling "sin" taxes on cigars, cigarettes, booze, marijuana, prostitution and "bad" drivers may resonate with the kooky electorate.

To measure how serious California's problem is, consider this:

The state was the world's fifth largest economy in 2002. Today it ranks eighth. Unemployment is 14% and rising with hundreds of businesses fleeing to Nevada and other far-flung confines.

Meg Whitman, former CEO of EBay, is a Republican candidate for governor who promises to solve California's fiscal ills which she describes as a "crises in confidence." Her platform includes more jobs and fix the education system.

LOL, Meg and all the other gubernatorial candidates that include a much older former governor in Jerry Brown, once called "Gov. Moonbeam" by a New York columnist, obviously an elitist. One slogan Brown, a Democrat, coined during his reign in the 1970s was quite appropriate for today's environment: An admonition for state citizens to "lower your horizons."

The filing deadline for state elections is March 17. Any chances Gary Coleman and Maria Carey plan to run for governor again?

The Los Angeles Times, a skeleton of its former self, still wields some clout in California political circles. In a series of editorial articles on fixing state government, the Times argues for passage of still two more constitutional amendments, a document already the third longest in the world.

On the June ballot is Proposition 14 in which passage would require open primaries. The goal is to end legislative gridlock created by gerrymandered districts.The Times:

Open primaries would free candidates to take positions on issues that they feel are right for their districts without fear of retribution from political parties or special interests. Voters would be able to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of party affiliation, and the candidates who advance to the general election would be those with the most support -- thereby restoring true democracy.

The other is a ballot measure called  the Best Practices Budget Accountability Act slated for the November general election in which the goal is to ease budget deadlocks which have occurred in 22 or the last 23 budget sessions, finally resulting in IOUs, protests, furloughs and de facto bankruptcy.

The initiative would set pay-as-you-go limits on new programs, require goals and performance measurements for every program reviewed at two and five-year intervals and unexpected revenue increases to pay off debt.

As deadly dull these measure are, it is essential they pass, the Times maintains.

One of the major sins created by legislatures past is the ungodly debt incurred in its retirement pension programs for state workers and teachers.

First, the recession blew 20% of the 2008-2009 portfolio of the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the state cannot afford to pick up the slack.

The two funds have set aside less than 1% of the $62 billion they need to cover lifetime health insurance benefits for retirees.Taxpayers are legally bound to meet those contractual obligations.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said one way states can reduce the costs in coming years is to reduce benefits for new public employees. They also can increase greater employee contributions to retirement funds as well as raise retirement ages and improve the way pension funds are managed.

In California, a law enforcement officer's pension is based on years of service. After 30 years with an ending annual salary of $100,000, for example, he/she would receive 90% or $90,000 in his retirement years.

Another measure vying for the November ballot is increasing full retirement for public employees from 60 to 66, saving the state $500 billion over the next 30 years, according to its sponsor, Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility.

In one major regard, California is the same as all 50 states.

No one is willing to pay more taxes. Everyone wants government spending cut for all programs except those that affects them.

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