California 2010: Athens-on-the-Pacific

Saturday, May 15, 2010
by Patrick Dorinson

For those of us who live in California or as we like to call it “Athens-on-the-Pacific”, things have never looked bleaker.

 Yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger released what will be his last budget to the Legislature and the people. It projects a deficit of $19.1 billion and will make drastic cuts in social spending.

 Right on cue the Democrats who have had a death grip on the Legislature for decades began their whining and caterwauling about the destruction of the safety net and that the “rich” weren’t paying enough and business needs to pay more.

 Here’s a quick lesson for the Democrats.

 Business has been saddled with onerous regulations for years. It is a wonder anyone wants to do business here.

 CEO Magazine has given California a dubious distinction. It is the worst state in the nation to conduct business. Congratulations Governor Schwarzenegger and California Legislature, you finally have been recognized for your handiwork.

 The number one state to do business? Texas, the state that urbane urban Californians like to look down their noses at as some kind of “redneck” paradise full of guns, conservatives and evil oil companies.

 Well, at least they have some money in their poke, unemployment is in single digits and they have a bright future.  

 But it is more than that.

 Take prisons and the prison guards union that are costing California billions. We keep proposing new prisons and no politician wants to look “soft” on crime. How about looking “smart” on crime?

 In Texas in 2007, Governor Rick Perry was told that his state would need 17,000 new prison beds by 2012 at a cost of $2 billion. As a first step Governor Perry was prepared to announce that the state would build three new prisons at a cost of $540 million.

 But before he made the announcement, a state legislator named Jerry Madden, a self described “ lock em’ up and throw away the key” conservative Republican brought the Governor a new plan.

 In 2005, Madden had become the Chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee which is in charge of the prison system. He had absolutely no experience in criminal justice or corrections. But his analytical mind, garnered from his time at West Point and as an engineer, went to work. He reached out to experts asked the tough questions and came up with a plan.

 His ideas to reduce the need for new prisons and break the cycle of recidivism were as follows.

He proposed a new model that would rely on additional beds for substance abuse treatment; the creation and expansion of specialty courts; additional probation funding to reduce caseloads; additional funding for mental health care and halfway houses; the creation of short-term jails for adults serving less than two years; a small increase in the rate of paroles, and programs that would reduce the number of incarcerated juveniles.

 The price tag? $240 million.  

 He took his progressive plan to Governor Perry and he accepted the proposal saving Texas over $300 million and putting it on a different path than just “lock em’ up”.

 And no one has ever or will ever accuse Governor Perry as being “soft” on crime.

 Other states are making great strides in how they deal with their prison systems. Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are rethinking old ways and coming up with new solutions. You know those other “redneck” states California likes to scoff at.

 All these “backward” states also have the death penalty and they use it. Unlike California, Death Row is not a holding cell for a 20 year appeals process that only prolongs the grief for the victim’s families. It is the holding cell for the death chamber to give closure to those very families and they can see justice done.

 And to think Texas did it all with a part time legislature that meets every other year instead of the permanent sclerotic legislature we have in Sacramento.

 Too bad we could not get an initiative qualified to return California to a part time legislature.

 When the budget was announced State Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg summoning his best liberal talking points and anger said, "What kind of civilized society maintains business tax breaks and eliminates child care? That's not the California that I recognize or take pride in living in."

 What kind of a society spends itself into oblivion with no regard where the money is coming from and tries to fund a welfare state?

 What kind of a society cripples its businesses with regulations, drives out others with high costs, and relies on the success of its wealthy to pay the state's bills?

 What kind of a society annually sends its vendors of goods and services "IOUs" putting folks out of work becasue the legislature is incapable of doing its job?

 What kind of society allows its infrastructure to decay to the point where the price for fixing it is unattainable?

 What kind of a society puts saving a small fish, the Delta Smelt, ahead of the lives and livelihoods of its citizens as it chokes off the lifeblood of any civilization--water?

 Perhaps we grew up in different places because that’s not the California I recognize or take pride in living in Senator Steinberg.  

 I grew up in different California of public schools that were the envy of the nation, a vast network of modern highways that connected the state, an agricultural heritage that fed the world and the belief that things would always get better.

 California now looks like the ruins of ancient Greece, a nation we seem to be hell bent on  emulating.

 When American frontiersman Davy Crockett was defeated for re-election to Congress in 1834, he famously said to his political enemies who had engineered his defeat, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

 I’m starting to think that might not be such a bad idea.