Thursday, February 26, 2009

Should We Let California Go Bankrupt?

While many states are grappling with budget problems, none are nearly as large as California's relative to its size--$41 billion in a state of 37 million, or $1,108 per resident. Even New York, the next most fiscally pressed state, clocks in with a mere $13 billion for 19 million residents, or $685 per capita.

There's good reason why most states won't fall down the fiscal black hole where California now dwells. This is a state whose politicians, public sector unions and advocacy groups have been living in a fantasy world of overspending, investment-deadening taxation and job-killing regulation. Looking out over the state's prospects and examining the budget deal that legislators have put together (jerry-rigged as it is with revenue gimmicks and unrealistic projections), the only question is who will be begging Washington for more money sooner, the banks, the auto companies or the Terminator?

The similarities between California and the auto companies are especially striking. Neither can afford their workforce. California schools pay their employees 35 percent more on average in wages and benefits than the national average (17 percent more when adjusted for the state's higher standard of living), a significant bite because the state funds much of local education (to the tune of $42 billion last year). Benefits are a big part of these costs. A public employee in California with 30 years of service can already retire at 55 with more than half of his salary as pension, and public-safety workers can get 90 percent of their salary at age 50.

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