|California Schemin': We're Up For Grabs
by Doug McIntyre [radio
I'm just getting over my traditional Thanksgiving cold, which begat my Christmas flu, which begat my annual New Year's stomach virus, so it's been awhile since we've chatted in these pages.
But don't think for a second this was all fun and games. My Nyquil-induced coma afforded a rare moment for reflection, a phone-/fax-/e-mail-free chance to ponder the state of our state between bouts of rib-rattling coughing and marathon episodes of "Celebrity Rehab."
My conclusion? We can't afford us anymore.
I hate to start the new year on such a negative note, but it has become obvious to everyone who looks at the dreadful state of California's finances - we can no longer afford the Golden State, and we're going to have to let ourselves go.
When the peasants grabbed the pitchforks and went after Gray Davis, we were drunk with outrage over 7percent annual spending growth and a $100billion budget. Now, we find ourselves with 11percent annual spending growth and a $145billion budget - and not a peep about a recall.
Now if you're one of those rare birds who actually pay attention to this kind of stuff, you probably have a fresh case of Sacramento Whiplash. In August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said we had a $4.1billion reserve; now he says we're $14billion in the hole. That's a $17.9billion swing. Who's advising Arnold? Wesley Snipes?
It's a push which is more tedious, writing about blown government budgets or reading about blown government budgets. However, my over-the-counter cold and flu medicine-induced epiphany has led me to the answer that will make it unnecessary for any more finger-pointing punditry or legislative "fiscal emergency" special sessions. Let's just sell the desk chairs and close up shop.
If Mexico wants California back, it's available at fire-sale prices - literally fire-sale prices, since Schwarzenegger says we can't afford the fire department anymore. At least not without dinging homeowners $125million on their insurance premiums. But don't worry, this isn't a tax.
I know some of you will say selling California to Mexico is Draconian, but consider this: The $14billion of red ink in this year's budget is the appetizer; the main course is the no man's land of fiscal time bombs like $118billion in unfunded pension and health benefits for retired public employees and the real likelihood the credit pimps will write off California as one gigantic overpriced San Fernando Valley fixer-upper. Set your TiVo for the newest reality show, "Flip that State."
Those of you who are more compassionate than I might say, "Hasn't Mexico suffered enough? Conquistadors, juntas, drug cartels, David Beckham and now the pink slip on California?" I say, hey, you want it? It's yours. We'll even throw in Catalina Island. Besides, if Mexico buys California and discovers all the hidden dry rot, Washington will bail them out, which is something they won't do as long as California remains part of America.
Arnold and his bagmen have driven California like drunken spring-break frat boys with a rental car. "Dude, let's see how fast we can take the speed bumps!" It's like Fabian Nu ez and Arnold checked the extra insurance box and Dad's credit card will cover the deductible.
The problem is it's not Dad's credit card - our parents paid for their spending binges. And they binged on roads and bridges and a UC system that was the envy of the nation and encouraged productivity. They bought fruit and vegetables; we bought gummy bears and soda.
Arnold and his bagmen have run up debts with the kind of zeros usually associated with astronomy. It's our great-grandchildren's credit cards that will take the hit, and by the time the guano hits the fan, Arnold will be cashing residual checks from "Terminator VI."
Letting California go will be sad. I'll miss it. The flag will look cockeyed with only 49 stars, but we'll call it retro-America, pre-Hawaii! It's all marketing.
And while I don't claim any financial prowess, I've noticed how the stock-market crowd seem to go wild every time a giant company fires thousands of workers. Who am I to argue with The Street? Let's fire everyone in California. That ought to make us highly desirable. Maybe Dubai will start kicking tires? A bidding war could start. We might become Scandinavia West - God knows we've got enough Ikeas.
It's time we woke up to the new reality. California is simply out of our league. We've got Pacific Palisades taste on a Pacoima budget.
Call it belt tightening. Call it down sizing. I'm sure Arizona and Nevada will write us a good recommendation. Nothing is forever. We had a good run, but we're just going to have to let California go. CRO
first appeared at L.A. Daily News
2008 Doug McIntyre