Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Death of a State I Love

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I was born and raised in South Jersey but always knew I wanted to live in California. I spent some time there in my late teens and then moved there for what i thought was forever when I joined the Navy in 1991. I was stationed at Naval Station San Diego and my wife and I grew to love the city and the surrounding region. We became Californians as a whole and San Diegans in particular.

We lived in that beautiful metropolitan area for nearly a decade, had two kids there and owned two homes. The pure joy of waking up and living in a region that had excellent weather, a diverse population and the best Mexican food on the planet was awesome.

Granted, San Diego was not as liberal as the rest of California. The county is home to Camp Pendleton, Naval Submarine Base Point Loma, the Naval Amphibious Base, NAS North Island (where I worked as a civilian), MCAS Miramar and other outlying military bases. It also had a large retired military population and military men and women tend to be more conservative.

Oddly, we left the Golden State in late 2000 and it was for several reasons. Firstly, the kids could see their grandparents and cousins on a regular basis if we moved back. Secondly, my wife could stay at home or work part-time, a luxury not available to us in California.

The state was at the tipping point where insane taxes, higher fees on everything and a chronic housing shortage led to wildly inflating prices. A condo we had sold in 1996 for less than $150,000 sold for $400,000 three years later. Wages couldn't keep up.

So we moved back to NJ where it was cheaper. Think about that, we moved to New Jersey--a state that has astronomical car insurance rates, high taxes and a hard core liberal bent because it was cheaper.

Since we left, the liberal Democrat Grey Davis was replaced with the liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger who was then succeeded by the uber-liberal Jerry Brown. Teachers and other unions that cut sweetheart deals with "progressive" governors and local representatives were draining state funds at a dangerous rate and the average person was forced to pay more and more.

So what happened? Joel Kotkin explains:

Now, however, the Golden State's fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape. The first thing that comes to many American minds when you mention California isn't Hollywood or tanned girls on a beach, but Greece. Many progressives in California take that as a compliment since Greeks are ostensibly happier. But as Mr. Kotkin notes, Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere. 
Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.
The lifeblood of California is young people. People like myself and my wife who made a good wage, had two kids between the ages of three and five and buoyed the economy bolted for cheaper if not greener pastures (a not quite apt analogy for anyone who has seen the arid San Diego in the summer but you get the point). We envisioned staying there forever but left and others are now doing the same.

I feel sad that a great state that was once the home to free-thinkers and entrepreneurs has become a wretched socialist mess where every liberal idea is tested without thought as to the repercussions. Cap and trade? let's do it. Corporate taxes that will fill the coffers? Good idea. Unchecked illegal immigration? We can tax those who are here legally to pay the costs. And so on.

 What California needs is not Governor moonbeam version 2.0 but a man or woman with the guts to say the emperor has no clothes. To preach the reality of the fiscal situation and say to all that the old habits and old collective bargaining agreements are driving us into the abyss.

They need a person like Governor Walker or Governor Christie to get in there and battle the entrenched politicos and their failed ideology. Christie as an example in the Garden State has taken a hard line and made the state solvent after years of chaos topped off by Jon Corzine who treated the states money just as he did MF Globals clients' money. Unfortunately for the state, it isn't going to happen until they face the fiscal Armageddon that Greece has as mentioned by Mr. Kotkin above.

It's going to take the economic destruction of California to save it and that's not good for the state or the country. Meanwhile, the people who truly made the state what it was--a beacon of new technology and innovation--are bailing out for states where they live and raise a family while still being able to eat and take a vacation. Texas is the new California and California may become the new Detroit.

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