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Contributors -
Tom McClintock

Mr. McClintock is an expert on matters of the State budget and fiscal discipline. He is a Senator in the California State Legislature and ran for Governor in the 2003 recall election. His valuable website is found at [McClintock index]

What Ails California: Spending Havoc
Voracious state agencies do less with much more
[Tom McClintock] 2/23/05

To know what California can be, it's important to remember what it once was.

A generation ago, California's highways were the envy of the world. We had one of the finest school systems in the country and one of the finest university systems in the world. Electricity was so cheap that there was serious discussion of abandoning electricity meters. The state water project promised abundant water supplies to complete the greening of California. Affordable housing abounded at all income levels. California was indeed the Golden State -- a land of opportunity and plenty far surpassing every other state in the nation. Today's liberals tell us that those were the days when Californians were willing to "invest" in their future -- unlike these miserly times when we've "starved" our schools, our infrastructure and our government.

But the reality is quite different. To provide that high level of public services 40 years ago, California state government spent $200 for every man, woman and child in the state -- or $1,240 in today's inflation-adjusted terms. Today, California government consumes $3,200 for every person in the state -- 2 times more in population-adjusted, inflation-adjusted terms.

Put another way, this year state government will spend $9.38 out of every $100 that you earn. That's the biggest chunk out of your earnings in California's history.

Californians pay the fourth-heaviest taxes per gallon of gasoline in the country -- and yet California ranks dead last in per-capita spending on its roads. Californians back every classroom with nearly $300,000, and yet only a fraction of the money reaches the actual classroom. Californians pay among the highest sales and income-tax rates in the country, and yet California's credit rating is the lowest in the nation.

Question: Is this the fault of taxpayers for not paying enough taxes, or is it the fault of near-criminal mismanagement of California's ample resources?

The Golden State that we remember from a generation ago -- that land of dreams, that place where families could make a fresh start, that state of great highway projects and great water projects and abundant housing and electricity and jobs -- is still right here. The only thing that has changed is public policy.

In 1974, a radical and retrograde ideology was introduced into California government during the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown. He called it his "era of limits," but really it amounted to the naive notion that infrastructure encouraged population growth. Brown canceled the state highway program, literally abandoning projects in mid-construction. He walked away from the state water project. He blocked the construction of new power plants and radically constricted the construction of new housing. Managerially, he unionized the teaching profession and centralized the public schools.

In the intervening decades, the California Legislature has maintained these policies, and the result has been devastating. Bureaucratic costs have soared, local governments have been usurped, and the quality of public services has plummeted. The task of this generation is to restore to our children the land of opportunity that our parents gave to us.

To do so, we must decentralize our service delivery systems -- starting by restoring control of our schools to parents and school boards and restoring their management to principals and teachers. Highway taxes must again be earmarked exclusively for our highways. We must roll back the excessive regulations that obstruct our commerce, our housing, our energy and our water supplies. We must dramatically downsize the state's bureaucracies by eliminating overlapping jurisdictions and by abolishing agencies that duplicate local or federal functions.

There is no reason why we can't have balanced budgets, lower taxes and a renewed commitment to public works -- because that's what we had just a generation ago. But doing so requires a dramatic change in the most liberal legislature in the United States and that, in turn, requires political action.

The census data tell us that for the first time in our history, California is watching a net out-migration of citizens. Many of them are finding a better life for their families in the middle of the Arizona and Nevada deserts than they could find in California. No act of God could wreak such devastation upon our state. Only acts of government could do that.

And that's the good news. Acts of government are within our power as citizens to change. CRO

This piece first appeared at the Los Angeles Daily News





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