plight sound familiar? A first-term Democratic chief executive struggles with
problems left by his Republican predecessor, but is thwarted by a legislature
that can’t agree on anything. The big concerns
are jobs, the deficit and immigration.
If California is a predictor for the nation, things may be worse than we thought.
There are more unemployed people here than in any other state, by more than
double. Texas ranks second, with roughly a million jobless, while California's
total is 2.2 million. To put that in perspective, there are more unemployed people
here than make up the entire population of the neighboring state of New Mexico.
California's bright spots are high-tech and alternative energy. That's why
President Obama visited last year to announce federal loan guarantees for Solyndra,
a Silicon Valley pioneer in solar power. On Aug. 31, Solyndra fired all of its
1,100 employees and folded after squandering $527 million in taxpayer money.
The primary explanation for Solyndra's devastating collapse, analysts say,
is that China is now beating the US in solar technology. We're not talking about
making plastic toys, cheap jeans or other products that China excels in manufacturing
for pennies. These are solar panels, keys to our future, and we're getting sunburned
by the Chinese.
At the start of summer, Gov. Jerry Brown finally pushed through a budget that
attempted to deal with the state’s $9 billion deficit. Now, less than two
months later, there’s a revenue shortfall of over $500 million per month – which
will soon mean even more cuts to essential services.
California's public universities and community colleges have eliminated classes
and raised fees after losing $1.3 billion in state funding, and now additional
cuts are looming. In the midst of this, the University of California recently
handed out $140 million in “merit raises” to faculty, some of whom
already earn $200,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the typical worker in California
has fallen to the lowest point in 10 years.
There are an estimated two million undocumented immigrants holding jobs here.
That’s a burden as well as a political hot potato, but the fact is California’s
agriculture industry, the nation’s largest, couldn’t function without
these laborers. It’s estimated that 80 percent of field workers are here
California doesn’t need bigger fences, it needs a common sense solution
to remove the stigma and legal dangers facing both workers and employers who
currently function only by pretending that the system is less flawed than it
As Gov. Brown said of his state, “We have the inventors, the dreamers,
the entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and a vast array of physical, intellectual
and political assets.”
In advance of the unveiling of President Obama’s jobs plan for the nation,
Brown issued his state plan calling for tax incentives for in-state hiring, and
tax penalties for companies that sell goods here but don’t employ Californians.
The “revenue-neutral” program would provide $1 billion in relief
to California businesses. It’s a good start, if Republicans in Sacramento
will get behind it.
For many of the fortunate, this is still Disneyland. But for most Californians,
like most Americans, it’s going to take more than dreams to make economic
recovery come true.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginally distributed by the Cagle syndicate.