August 3, 2009


California's Reckoning—and Ours: The state's budget debacle holds a lesson for America, but one we will probably ignore. (Robert J. Samuelson, Aug 3, 2009, Newsweek)

Here's the national lesson. There's a collision between high and rising demands for government services and the capacity of the economy to produce the income and tax revenue to pay for those demands. That's true of California, where poor immigrants and their children have increased pressures for more government services. It's also true of the nation, where an aging population raises Social Security and Medicare spending. California is leading the transformation of politics into a form of collective torture: pay more (higher taxes), get less (lower services).

Make no mistake: The spending cuts and tax increases the state enacted to bridge its budget deficits are not cosmetic. In February, the Legislature agreed to a penny increase in the state sales tax, bringing the total—including local sales taxes—to about nine cents or more. Top income tax rates, already among the highest in the country, were raised. So were motor vehicle registration fees. Spending cuts approved in February and July are deep. Together, the cuts equal almost 30 percent of the general revenue fund and will affect schools, prisons, colleges and welfare.

The state's liberal establishment is in mourning. "Reversing 40 years of progress" is how Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, put it in one blog. Some welfare benefits will be cut by half. California's student-teacher ratio, now about a third above the national average, will probably go even higher. The University of California system lost 20 percent of its state payments. It's raising tuition and student fees 9.3 percent, imposing salary reductions of 4 to 10 percent on more than 100,000 workers, and delaying faculty hires.

National parallels again seem apparent. Federal budget deficits—reflecting the urge to spend and not tax—predate the recession and, as baby boomers retire, will survive any recovery. Amazingly, the Obama administration would worsen the long-term outlook by expanding federal health insurance coverage. There's much mushy thinking about how we'll muddle through.

California has pioneered this sort of delusion.

Blue-State Blues (ROSS DOUTHAT, 8/03/09, NY Times)
The red-blue contrast is often overdrawn. But it’s a sensible way to understand Obama’s summer struggles. On health care, energy, taxes and spending, he’s pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths.

Consider Texas and California. In the Bush years, liberal polemicists turned the president’s home state — pious, lightly regulated, stingy with public services and mad for sprawl — into a symbol of everything that was barbaric about Republican America. Meanwhile, California, always liberalism’s favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

But flash forward to the current recession, and suddenly Texas looks like a model citizen. The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession. Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009.

Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area.

The Blue-State Meltdown and the Collapse of the Chicago Model: This should be the moment the Blue Man basks in glory. An urbane president sits in the White House and a San Francisco liberal runs the House. But blue states are undergoing a meltdown. (Joel Kotkin, July 22, 2009, The American)
[W]hile state and local budget crises have extended to some red states, the most severe fiscal and economic basket cases largely are concentrated in places such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, and, perhaps most vividly of all, California. The last three have among the highest unemployment rates in the country; all the aforementioned are deeply in debt and have been forced to impose employee cutbacks and higher taxes almost certain to blunt a strong recovery.

The East Coast–dominated media, of course, wants to claim that we have reached “the twilight” of Sunbelt growth. This observation seems a bit premature. Instead, traditional red-state strongholds such as the Dakotas, Idaho, Texas, Utah, and North Carolina, dominated the list of fastest-growing regions recently compiled for Forbes by my colleagues at

When the recovery comes, job growth also is most likely to resurge first in the red states, while the blue states continue to lag behind. For reasons as diverse as regulatory policy, aging infrastructure, and high levels of taxation, blue states continue to be more susceptible to recessions than their red counterparts.

This assumption is borne out by an analysis of economic cycles by the website, which has found that since 1990 the states most vulnerable to economic downturns include the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and New York as well as Connecticut and California. Those most resistant have been generally red bastions such as the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Texas, and resource-rich states such as Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

This suggests that even the hardest-hit red states, notably Florida and Arizona, are likely better positioned in the long term for a recovery. A generation of out-migration may be slowing down temporarily due to the recession, but many people moved to places such as Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Georgia over the first seven years of the decade; in contrast, the high-tax blue states, including New York, New Jersey, and California, lost 1,100 people every day between 1998 and 2007. Most of them headed to the red states.

“When the economy comes back,” notes veteran California-based economist and forecaster Bill Watkins, “there will be a pent-up demand. People will compare and move to the places that are affordable and don’t have the fundamental tough tax and regulatory structures.”

These demographic and economic trends will have a long-term political impact. The net in-migration states—almost all of them red—will gain new representatives in Congress after the next census while New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and perhaps even California could see their delegations shrink.

In fact, amidst the Blue Man’s current political ascendency, the devolutionary process is likely to continue. Its roots are very deep, and will prove more difficult to reverse than media and policy claques suggest. In historic terms, blue states’ relative decline represents one of the greatest shifts of political and economic power since the Civil War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2009 7:20 AM
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