California has the lowest debt rating of any state, the fourth-highest unemployment rate (11.9 percent), and its job growth rate since 2000 is almost 20 percent below the national average. Some county and state public safety employees retire at 50 receiving at least 90 percent of their final year's pay, forever. Taxpayers pour more than $3 billion a year into state employees' pension funds, 10 times more than they did 10 years ago, and still there are large unfunded liabilities for which taxpayers are liable. More than 5,000 retired state employees' annual pensions exceed $100,000. If public employees did not begin drawing pensions until age 65, California would save half a trillion dollars through 2030.
Between 1997 and 2007, the state work force, including public school employees, grew 24 percent, to almost 900,000. Government spending has grown 40 percent faster under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger than under his Democratic predecessor. Since 2005, state spending has increased twice as fast as inflation and population. Democrats blocked allowing online enrollment by parents of their children in state health programs because it might have endangered unionized clerical jobs. As the state prepares to release tens of thousands of felons from prison to comply with a court order and help balance the budget (in 2002 prison guards received a 37 percent raise), it has 19,000 illegal immigrants incarcerated.
Poizner, whose rivals for the Republican nomination include former Rep. Tom Campbell and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, expects to benefit from the electorate's mood swings. In 2003, it soured on Gray Davis, the archetypical political lifer (he was Gov. Jerry Brown's chief of staff), replacing him with Schwarzenegger, who then was the muscular amateur, and who now is the incredible shrinking action hero. Poizner thinks California's dialectic of disgust will elevate him -- a slight, bespectacled entrepreneur who is the only Republican other than Schwarzenegger elected statewide since 1994. Getting a state sickened by multiple toxic policies to elect someone whose name sounds like poison may be difficult, but perhaps not more so than getting to teach, unpaid, in East San Jose.