Per this KFI article, the state’s total debt –that is, our debt— is $340,000,000,000. $340 billion. Three-hundred and forty billion dollars:
California faces $340 billion in debts, or more than $8,500 for each of its 38 million residents, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Wednesday in recommending that the state set priorities for paying down its key long-term liabilities.
The state should first address the $73.7 billion shortfall in the teachers’ retirement system, a debt that could cost the state, teachers and school districts a combined $5 billion a year to resolve over 30 years. Without changes, the system serving 868,000 members is projected to run out of money by 2046.
Paying down the $64.6 billion shortfall in health benefits for 277,000 retired state employees and their dependents should come next. That could cost the state $1.8 billion a year over 30 years, the analyst said, but getting started sooner would dramatically reduce costs over the long run.
The report comes a month before the state’s budget is due and feeds legislative debates over whether the state should spend or save its budget surplus and how to create a rainy day fund that would go before voters in November for their approval. It was released a week before Gov. Jerry Brown unveils his revised budget recommendations.
“I think it underscores what the governor has said for quite some time, which is that we have significant liabilities that we need to address,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.
There’s the understatement of the year. And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that doesn’t include local government debt.
This is insanity. If California were a normal family or business, we’d have been forced into bankruptcy court for liquidation, and the marshal would be holding a sale.
The article goes on to talk vaguely about Governor Brown’s plans for paying down this debt and for reestablishing a “rainy day fund,” but I would take that talk more seriously, if it weren’t coming from a man still wedded to his high-speed rail boondoggle and his plan to dig giant tunnels to move water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. No one can talk fiscal responsibility and back those rolling fiascoes.
And the state’s budget surplus? Please. As the article correctly notes, this is from transient factors. Capital gains taxes are a one-time revenue source, and the Prop 30 tax increase will bring in more revenue only until the gouged high-income earners move to Florida or Texas. That surplus is as ephemeral as the state’s good credit.
Three-hundred and forty billion dollars. The mind just boggles that our so-called betters in Sacramento could have been so irresponsible. How’d we get here? I can think of a few reasons:
- Creating a full-time legislature with professional legislators who will pander to the right donor groups to keep their cushy jobs, instead of acting in the interests of the broad public. Allowing both houses to be elected by population, thus assuring domination by the urban megalopolises at the expense of other regions.
- Allowing public employee unions. Even FDR knew those were against the public interest. Eventually, and inevitably, they fell into a corrupt kickback arrangement with the professional legislators, an arrangement that has helped lead us to our massive debt.
- Allowing ourselves to slip into a one-party state in which the governing spectrum ranges from liberal left to loony left. There’s no real opposition to put more than an occasional check on the worst tendencies of the Democratic majority, or its corruption.
- And finally, We The People, ourselves. Far too few of us pay any attention to what goes on in Sacramento or on the many boards that operate (supposedly) in our name, far too many of us take at their word what the pols and their backers say without exercising the responsibilities of citizenship and examining them critically — and firing them when needed.
Until the day comes when we find ourselves stuck with a $340 billion bill.
To paraphrase Andrew Breitbart, how do you screw up paradise?
It will take decades to clean this mess up and, even if we can find the right people to do it, can we convince the voters to take the needed bitter medicine?
I just don’t know.