California faces an enduring condition of bad public policy 

As a new governor takes over amid a flurry of promises and activity, and the tired, boring old governor exits the scene, it’s easy to forget that the old guy came in amid a torrent of activity and interest also.

Jerry Brown is talking about shifting control from Sacramento to local governments and about wrestling with the state’s deep problems in a tough manner. It seems like just yesterday that newly elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, after bouncing an unloved governor in a historic recall election, was promising to reform Sacramento and blow up the boxes of government.

Just like Schwarzenegger, Brown has said some things that sound encouraging. But there’s little chance for reform given that the new governor is even less committed than the old one to challenging the way Sacramento spends your money.

Brown is against tax hikes, unless the public approves them, which is warning that we will face tax-increase propositions.

Brown’s shift in control to localities likely will be followed by plans for expanded tax authority for those local governments.

The most telling sign that Brown is also a phony reformer came from some words he uttered during his inauguration. These perhaps were throwaway lines, in that they were meant to encourage Californians rather than instruct us in the direction of his new administration. Yet these words speak volumes about how Brown views the economic and fiscal situation in our beloved state.

“I have thought a lot about this and it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties,” the governor said. “A problem can be solved or forgotten but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.”

It’s true that people will always fight over government budgets and spending priorities, but California’s situation — a $28 billion budget deficit, massive unfunded liabilities, crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment — are not just inherent difficulties. They are caused by bad public policy, by legislators who continuously expand government beyond our ability to pay for it.

The national economy is in tough shape, but these problems are not spread evenly across the nation. California is in deeper fiscal straits than many other states because it has embraced policies that are worse than those found in most other states.

Are these merely the passive results of the human condition or a problem borne of bad public policy? There is some truth in what he said, although not in the way he meant it. Tyranny is part of the human condition also, but our founding fathers came up with a governmental system that kept it at bay.

Brown pointed out during the inauguration all the many important services government provides, but I didn’t hear him (and I rarely hear it from Republicans, either) talk about better ways of providing those services or the excesses in the governmental bureaucracies created to administer them.

And so nothing much will change other than your tax burden, which might go up. Perhaps in California that is an enduring condition.

Steven Greenhut is editor of or e-mail him at

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