Now California's mostly Democratic political class will petition Washington for a bailout to nourish the public sector that is suffocating the state's dwindling -- and departing -- private sector. The Obama administration, which rewarded the United Auto Workers by giving it considerable control over two companies it helped reduce to commercial rubble, will serve the interests of California's unionized public employees and others largely responsible for reducing the state to mendicancy.
These factions will flourish if the state becomes a federal poodle on a short leash held by the president. He might make aid conditional on the state doing things that California Democrats and their union allies would love to be "compelled" to do: eliminate the requirements of two-thirds majorities of both houses of the Legislature to raise taxes and pass budgets, and repeal Proposition 13, which voters passed in 1978 to limit property taxes. These changes would enable the Legislature (job approval: 14 percent) to siphon away an ever-larger share of taxpayers' wealth and transfer it to public employees. Such as prison guards, whose potent union is one reason California's cost-per-inmate (about $49,000) is twice the national average.
California's voters are complicit in their state's collapse. They elect and re-elect the legislators off whom public employees unions batten. Also, voters have promiscuously used their state's plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. Last November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles -- a delight California cannot afford.
In a surreal attempt to terrify voters into supporting the propositions, Schwarzenegger (job approval: 33 percent) threatened to do something sensible: sell such state assets as San Quentin prison, which sits on prime ocean-view real estate. But Californians should now pay a real price, in realism about ways and means, for Schwarzenegger's wasted years. His governance-by-attention-deficit-disorder has involved flitting from one trendy irrelevance (e.g., stem cell research) to another (e.g., cooling the planet) while the state has sagged. Fittingly, he was in Washington as his shambolic legacy was being defined by Tuesday's defeat.
He was at the White House, applauding the Obama administration's imposition of severe fuel efficiency standards on a dependent automobile industry that at least has a proven aptitude for its new task of building cars Americans will not like. Standing far from Tuesday's repudiation, in the shadow of the president who may soon effectively be California's governor, Schwarzenegger was the administration's dependency agenda writ small.