Just a few years ago, California was a laughingstock. It was nearly bankrupt, its infrastructure was crumbling, and you couldn’t get the two political parties to agree on anything.
Sound familiar? Kinda like our national politics now?
Just two years ago, the idea that California could be a global model for anything was laughable. When Brown took office, the state was staggered by double-digit unemployment, a $26 billion deficit and an accumulated “wall of debt” topping $35 billion. California was a punch line for Republican politicos – a cautionary tale, they said, of the fate that awaits the nation should it embrace Left Coast-style economic, social and environmental liberalism. On the campaign trail in 2012, Mitt Romney joked that “America is going to become like Greece, or like Spain, or Italy, or like . . . California.”
But today you don’t hear much about California, and that’s good! So what happened? In 2011, Governor Moonbeam, AKA Jerry Brown, was reelected and with a huge dose of progressive politics has completely turned the state around.
The California that Brown inherited on his return to office appeared to be an insolvent, ungovernable mess. California’s finances have been out of wack since the late 1970s, when right-wing, anti-tax activists passed Prop 13, a constitutional cap on property taxes that also requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise any tax through the state legislature. Moreover, it was a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hastened the recent fiscal calamity by slashing California’s vehicle license fee. Promising to cut the “car tax” keyed Schwarzenegger’s victory over the hapless Democrat Gray Davis in the recall election of 2003. But it also blew a $4 billion annual hole in the budget that Schwarzenegger simply papered over with bond debt.
With a stiff cocktail of budget cuts and hard-won new taxes, Brown has not only zeroed out the deficit, he’s also begun paying down the debt.
However, the revival of California was also made possible by the collapse of the Republican Party in the state.
The land that gave us Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, tax revolts and the nation’s harshest three-strikes laws, California was a reliable red state in presidential elections from the late Sixties through the 1980s. But in a script that should sound familiar to anyone who follows national politics, California Republicans undermined their own easy dominance of state politics by moving abruptly to the right, alienating the state’s increasingly urban and Latino population with harsh stands on social issues and get-tough immigration laws.
In short, Golden State Republicans have been locked in the same “demographic death spiral” that South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham says haunts the national party: They’re too old, too white and too rural in a state that’s trending young, multicultural and urban. … In the 2012 election, the party all but crashed and burned, as voters elected a Democratic supermajority in the legislature, rendering the GOP moot.
So maybe there is hope for the rest of us?
Yes, Brown raised taxes, despite warnings from right-wing ideologues that higher taxes would send millionaires running for the borders and cripple California’s job creators. Instead, the unemployment rate has tumbled, Silicon Valley is going gangbusters, and the housing market has recovered. “Entrepreneurs are doing so well, in fact, that state coffers got an unexpected bump this spring, thanks to a windfall of $4.5 billion, largely from capital gains.”
At the same time, Brown has launched ambitious new projects, including plans to require California to generate one-third of its power from renewable sources by 2020, and power 15% of its automobiles from electricity by 2025. California has launched its own “Cap and Trade” carbon-pollution trading market and is aggressively fighting climate change.
Brown is increasing funding for education, is funding a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles, and is making massive improvements to safeguard California’s water supply.
California is also leading the nation in the implementation of Obamacare. And instead of raising prices, even with Obamacare’s expanded benefits and without subsidies, a 25-year-old can buy health insurance for $141 a month (and 40-year-olds for $219).
Today, Brown’s unique mix of fiscal restraint and big-government ambition has not only righted California, it could provide a model for Democrats nationally. Most thought-provoking: Brown is proving that a government that lives within its means can simultaneously pursue bold, liberal policies and programs. “Without fiscal responsibility, no other progress is possible,” says Gov. O’Malley of Maryland. “I’m hugely impressed with Jerry Brown.”
[thanks to Rolling Stone]