California Dream 2.0
There's still gold at the end of the rainbow, but in this new version, you need to pay for it.
Throughout its history, California has captured hearts. Millions have swooned over its natural beauty and limitless opportunity, and the state has loved them back.
In the nineteenth century, it gave its residents chunks of gold. In the twentieth, it flowed with milk and honey (and fruit, nuts, and vegetables). It offered stunning backdrops for movies and an amazing university system to hatch amazing high-tech products.
But for many, it's become a state of unrequited love – at least for now. Not only is California overcrowded, smog-impaired, traffic-jammed, and water-deprived, it's also fiscally off the tracks. This week, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a hard-fought budget of steep cuts to deal with a deficit of roughly $24 billion. Are these sacrifices a harbinger of what's to come for a nation struggling with a trillion-dollar deficit?
The cuts are painful, and will affect public education, from K-12 to colleges and universities; healthcare for the poor, the young, and the old; welfare payments; prisons; government workers and office hours, and state parks – many of which will close.
Not surprisingly, Californians feel dejected, with only 41 percent describing their state as one of the best places to live – compared to a more than 70 percent favorable rating from the mid '80s all the way back to the '60s, when the Field Poll first started asking this question.
It is premature, however, to declare this Golden-State romance finished.
Many of the charms, attributes, and opportunities that attracted people to California – and which underpin its economy – still exist, and will likely be enhanced as the global economy recovers.
The state is still strategically placed on the Pacific rim, with huge ports ready to accept goods from a re-rising China and other Asian exporters. California will still benefit from Asian finance, tourism, and education.
Even with an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent (nearly 2 percentage points above the national average), California still accounts for 45 to 50 percent of America's venture capital – money that feeds entrepreneurship. Innovation has always been California's strength. Companies are poised to take advantage of an emerging clean-energy age.