California as France

Matthew Kaminski makes the comparison, and it’s not a good one for my beloved Golden State:

Now there’s much to recommend the Old World. California brings to mind my last home, France — God’s country blessed with fertile soil for wines, sun-blanched beaches, and a well-educated populace. Amusingly, both states are led by bling-bling immigrants married to glamorous women and elected to shake up the status quo. In both departments, the governator got a head start on Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

The parallels are also disquieting. The French have long experienced the unintended consequences of a large public sector. Ask them about it. As the number of people who get money from government grows, so does the power of constituencies dedicated to keep this honey dripping. Even when voters recognize the model carries drawbacks, such as subpar growth, high taxes, an uncompetitive business climate and above-average unemployment, their elected leaders find it near impossible to tweak the system. This has been the story of France for decades, and lately of California.

Six years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger arrived in Sacramento to "cut up the credit card" and give the girlie men at the State Capitol a testosterone shot. California languished then in a fiscal crisis whose causes were pretty much the same as today. The hapless Gray Davis had been recalled, and the Austrian-born actor made a promising start to break the pattern.

In 2005, banking on his popularity, the governor pushed an ambitious ballot initiative to impose a hard state spending cap, limit the unions’ political buying power, tighten requirements for teacher tenure, and overhaul a gerrymandered state political map. Arnold lost.

Rather than regrouping and coming back to try again to fix California’s structural problems, Arnold instead switched to those issues which would make him popular. In the process, not only did Arnie lose, so did Californians. Our problems –irrational spending policies, union dominance, constitutionally mandated spending, and bloated state labor rolls– are well-entrenched and would take a Herculean effort to fix.

Unfortunately, Hercules wimped out.


2 Responses to California as France

  1. What is a budget cut?

    Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee (my hometown paper), provides an important clarification to the question of what is a budget cut and why the answer should be born in mind when talking about California’s (or any state’s) budget: “This…

  2. […] trains come to mind), or court mandates, California simply spends irresponsibly and is heading for a French grave. If cuts are within the discretion of the legislature, they need to make serious cuts. If state law […]

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