I love California. It was my first state and I would have been happy to never leave but my father’s career took us to the Midwest when I was a child. I always knew I’d be back though, and I returned for college at the age of 17 attending first San Diego State University and then UC Santa Barbara for graduate school. I’ve left this state twice – for a three and a half year stint with the Bishop Museum on the island of Oahu, and then for our ill-starred attempt at a better life (financially) in Colorado. When we were told to move to a lower elevation for my son’s health I didn’t seriously contemplate moving anywhere other than back ‘home’ to California.
I love California because it is a big beautiful diverse place, with all sorts of landscapes and people. I love the weather and the proximity of the ocean. I love the possibility of having orange trees and avocados growing in your backyard as we did at the house we rented during grad school. I love having the snow close enough to visit but not near enough to complicate one’s life (I hated the constant numbing cold and snow shoveling in Colorado’s winters). I like it that my children’s classrooms are filled with peoples of all colors and that the state as a whole is more open minded and accepting of a family like mine. I would be happy to live here the rest of my life.
My loyalties firmly stated I have to say that California is not an easy place to live these days. The state is in deep financial trouble. Without going into the myriad reasons that have propelled California deeply into debt (mainly because it’s an extremely complicated history of events and choices that spans over 30 years, and economists are divided about who is to blame) it is clear that the state is not healthy. With a debt soaring towards 10 billion dollars, an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, declining tax revenues and rising spending, expensive public pensions, deep cuts in education and social services, the California dream has become downright nightmarish!
With problems as extensive and complicated as these there is obviously no easy fix and as you might expect there is a real “it’s going to get worse before it gets better” tone coming out of Sacramento in these early days of our new governor’s administration. The preview of his ‘tough love’ budget proves that it’s going to get a lot worse for people in our situation. Among other things Brown proposes:
- Medi-Cal: Require patients to provide co-payments for services, limit doctor visits and reduce rates paid to health providers.
- Healthy Families: Increase participant premiums and co-pays, eliminate vision care.
- Welfare: Cut grants, impose stricter time limits on recipients getting grants, eliminate child care for 11- and 12-year-olds.
Because we have opted not to make use of most of these services while receiving unemployment benefits (the kids are covered under Medi-Cal but we have not used it so far as our doctor is not a Medi-Cal provider), we won’t be immediately affected by these cuts. If I haven’t found a job by the time my unemployment benefits run out we will find the ‘safety net’ considerably less helpful. Other cuts Brown proposes include cutting back staffing on wildfires, cutting the governor’s budget by 25 percent, closing state parks with low attendance rates, cutting out all funding for local libraries and state fairs, making deep cuts in the services developmentally disabled people receive, making deep cuts to higher education, and eliminating transitional housing for 18 and 19-year old foster children. He proposes to raise revenue by eliminated various tax loopholes, asking voters to extend a 2009 tax increases to sales, vehicle and incomes that is set to expire, and to continue borrowing from special funds.
Naturally this budget has already attracted criticism from both sides. But according to the Sacramento Bee this is a calculated move:
“Brown has said his budget’s strength is exactly its mix of elements unsavory to both major parties. Its combination of cuts, an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion in tax extensions and internal borrowing bridges the state’s estimated $25 billion-plus budget deficit over the next 18 months.”
The governor wants movement on his budget proposal in 60 days, which doesn’t give him much time to sell it to voters who are fed up with government and appear to have their heads in the sand when it comes to state finances. As the LA Times says:
In making the sale, Brown’s biggest problem will be his buyers. Poll after poll has shown that Californians do not know where the state’s money comes from nor where it goes, leading to fundamental misunderstandings about where savings can be had.
I hope that voters will tune into the conversation about the budget and California’s future and be willing to be educated about the hard choices ahead of us. I hope legislators will remove partisan blinders and let go of some of their sacred cows. I hope brighter minds and bigger hearts will prevail and that attention will be focused on improving the job situation. If more of us could get back to work it would be an enormous benefit to the financial health and welfare of California and all Californians. Governor Brown says he is optimistic about the future of California. I want to be optimistic too. Let’s bring back the Golden State!