California is lined up, hands extended, palm up, imploring the Obama Administration to guarantee its debt – a guarantee as inconceivable as state ownership of General Motors once was.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger projects that California will create a deficit of $23.4 billion over the next year, a deficit bigger than Georgia’s entire budget. Voters this month rejected higher taxes and borrowing from future lottery proceeds to fund current consumption, prompting California officials to go hat-in-hand to Washington. More immediately, Schwarzenegger is proposing dramatic cuts. He would, for example, eliminate welfare and would end non-emergency health care for illegals. He’d also whack the California version of Georgia’s PeachCare health insurance program for children in families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid. He’s eliminating some future grants for college students, ordering unpaid leaves for state employees, and giving one-year early releases to prison inmates who are not thought to be violent and are not identified as sex offenders.
Periodically news organizations or advocacy groups send delegations to other states or cities to take a look at growth, development, a new transportation project or housing developments. Those trips invariably lead to long accounts full of unwarranted self-criticism and place-envy to set up the question: “Why can’t we be more like…?”
A far more valuable trip would be to Sacramento and to other parts of California to examine the question: Where does liberalism in governing take us? In some cases, California is far ahead of Georgia in terms of the experiments it’s tried — in public initiatives, for example, or in setting caps on state spending. (Proposition 8, which affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman, was a public initiative.) Georgia has never had public initiative and whenever the movement has started to get legs in the past, legislators resist, offering something weak and virtually impossible for voters to bring forth. California once had real spending caps; the one voters rejected was more symbolic than real. Georgia has never had them — and it should.
California also funds education almost entirely from the state level. Bad policy? Yes. It creates the expectation that somebody else is paying the tab. It also tempts voters to exempt education from the usual spending constraints, as Californians have done.
Georgia is not yet a mature state. There’s still time to fix our troubles before they develop. Look to California for guidance. Plan a trip. What to do? What to avoid?