The problem is that California has exorbitant built-in costs unlike any other state and, in politically correct fashion, usually tries to keep mum about them. As the home to about a quarter of the nation's illegal immigrants, most from poorer areas of Latin America, California has public schools that enroll millions whose first language is not English. Someday, the infusion of young, motivated new Californians may prove a fiscal plus, but for the foreseeable future, illegal immigration translates into years of soaring health-care, housing, transportation, education and law-enforcement costs -- and billions of much-needed dollars lost from the state economy each year in remittances to Latin America.
California public unions are among the highest-paid in the nation. While Brown may have balanced next year's budget through higher taxes, he cannot do much about the more than $300 billion in unfunded pension fund liabilities and municipal bonds that were incurred, in part, to ensure the state and its localities could afford their public workforces.
Elite environmentalists -- who feel that to extend the conditions of their own affluent coastal enclaves to millions of others would tax the ecosystem -- have blocked new housing developments, cut off irrigation water to farmland, and opposed new energy production.
Yet if California has self-induced crises, it also has innate advantages. Aside from the best climate in North America, it has the richest farming area in the nation, along with huge natural endowments of gas, oil, minerals and timber.
California also enjoys an extravagant inheritance. Universities such as Stanford, Caltech and UC Berkeley continually rate among the best in the world. For decades, Silicon Valley, Napa Valley, Hollywood and Central Valley agriculture have earned hundreds of billions of dollars in the global marketplace.
In short, California is a wonderful place to live for Bay Area, 30-something Google executives; young, rich Stanford students; and Malibu celebrities -- or recent indigents fleeing the abject misery of Latin America and needing generous public help. But it is not such an accommodating a landscape if you are in the shrinking middle class and seeking a good-paying job in energy, construction or manufacturing; a safe daily commute on good roads; reasonable taxes; an affordable house; or a good public school.
The governor and the legislature believe that higher taxes, higher prices and more regulations are worth the pleasures of California's weather, natural beauty and chic culture. Who would leave all that for low-tax but scorching Texas or Nevada?
They may be right. I am still here, writing this column in 70-degree March weather, gazing out at the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, amid blooming almond orchards on the small farm of my ancestors -- while computing my soaring taxes and picking up the daily litter tossed by the roadside, after another near-death experience on an archaic California freeway.
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