The nation’s most populous state is battling double-barreled calamities — California’s agriculture is in a downward spiraling due to drought, and its debt is soaring amid increasing immigration and staggering pension obligations.
But perhaps an even bigger problem facing the state is “misplaced priorities,” according to Forbes.com contributor Thomas Del Beccaro.
California has seen a wave of immigration over several decades and now has more than 38 million residents, with an equal number of Latinos and non-Hispanic whites. But projections show that the population will continue to grow due to immigration and could reach 50 million within two decades.
That should mean Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown would place a high priority on job creation. But that is not the case today, according to Del Beccaro, former chairman of the California Republican Party and a frequent radio and television commentator.
California has one of America’s highest unemployment rates. And with 12 percent of the nation’s population, the state has 30 percent of the country’s welfare recipients.
Debt at the state and municipal levels stands at more than $1.1 trillion, much of that tied to pensions.
Gov. Brown recently signed a large tax increase with a top rate of 13.3 percent, and California taxes are 42 percent higher than in Texas. The Golden State also has implemented a 15-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase to fight climate change — all factors not likely to spur new job creation in the state.
On top of that, California is in the midst of a three-year drought that is estimated to result in economic losses of $2.2 billion in the state’s agriculture industry this year alone, plus the loss of more than 17,000 jobs.
But rather than focus on these problems, Del Beccaro writes that Gov. Brown has focused his energies on bringing high-speed rail to the state. He rejected an $11.3 billion water bond proposal, insisting it was too expensive, but sought $68 billion for high-speed rail despite the lack of consumer demand.
The rail line would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco and allow for future connections to San Diego and Sacramento. But studies by several independent observers estimate that far fewer riders will use the rail line than the rail authority projects.
Gov. Brown did ultimately agree to a $2.5 billion bond for water storage, a figure “woefully short” of what is needed, Del Beccaro asserts.
He concludes: “By emphasizing high-speed rail over water and failing to deal with its debt crisis, California poses a long-term threat to our national economy and is on an economic collision course with increased immigration and lack of water.”