PETER FUNT: Golden State's luster has vanished
SAN FRANCISCO — Here in California, rocks are not falling from the sky.
So much for the good news. In most other respects, the Golden State is a tarnished mess.
Does California's plight sound familiar? A first-term Democratic chief executive struggles with problems left by his Republican predecessor, but is thwarted by a Legislature that can't agree on anything. The big concerns are jobs, the deficit and immigration.
If California is a predictor for the nation, things may be worse than we thought.
There are more unemployed people here than in any other state, by more than double. Texas ranks second, with roughly a million jobless, while California's total is 2.2 million. To put that in perspective, there are more unemployed people here than make up the entire population of the neighboring state of New Mexico.
California's bright spots are high-tech and alternative energy. That's why President Obama visited last year to announce federal loan guarantees for Solyndra, a Silicon Valley pioneer in solar power. On Aug. 31, Solyndra fired all of its 1,100 employees and folded after squandering $527 million in taxpayer money.
The primary explanation for Solyndra's devastating collapse, analysts say, is that China is now beating the US in solar technology. We're not talking about making plastic toys, cheap jeans or other products that China excels in manufacturing for pennies. These are solar panels, keys to our future, and we're getting sunburned by the Chinese.
At the start of summer, Gov. Jerry Brown finally pushed through a budget that attempted to deal with the state's $9 billion deficit. Now, less than two months later, there's a revenue shortfall of over $500 million per month — which will soon mean even more cuts to essential services.
California's public universities and community colleges have eliminated classes and raised fees after losing $1.3 billion in state funding, and now additional cuts are looming. In the midst of this, the University of California recently handed out $140 million in "merit raises" to faculty, some of whom already earn $200,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted hourly wage of the typical worker in California has fallen to the lowest point in 10 years.
There are an estimated two million undocumented immigrants holding jobs here. That's a burden as well as a political hot potato, but the fact is California's agriculture industry, the nation's largest, couldn't function without these laborers. It's estimated that 80 percent of field workers are here illegally.
California doesn't need bigger fences, it needs a common sense solution to remove the stigma and legal dangers facing both workers and employers who currently function only by pretending that the system is less flawed than it really is.
As Brown said of his state, "We have the inventors, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs, the venture capitalists and a vast array of physical, intellectual and political assets."
In advance of the unveiling of President Obama's jobs plan for the nation, Brown issued his state plan calling for tax incentives for in-state hiring, and tax penalties for companies that sell goods here but don't employ Californians.
The "revenue-neutral" program would provide $1 billion in relief to California businesses. It's a good start, if Republicans in Sacramento will get behind it.
For many of the fortunate, this is still Disneyland. But for most Californians, like most Americans, it's going to take more than dreams to make economic recovery come true.