Year after year, as an increasingly toxic ultrapartisanship cripples the state government’s capability to make constructive decisions, The Examiner has warned that California cannot continue being a world-class economic leader under such dysfunctional conditions. But perhaps the most ominous timetable seen yet has just been made public, and it spells out how the advantages that made the Bay Area a powerhouse of entrepreneurial innovation are being directly attacked by Sacramento’s ineffectuality.
The new report and conference by the Bay Area Council, a public policy organization that analyzes the regional economy from the viewpoint of large employers, sounds the alarm that the state government’s self-serving gridlock is already knocking down the pillars of our area’s prosperity. The damage is happening now, not at some time in the near future. And without meaningful reform of Sacramento politics, the Bay Area will find it harder and harder to bounce back from the stubborn recession that has pushed unemployment here to more than 10 percent.
The Bay Area would be in far worse shape without its powerful economic fundamentals — a skilled and educated work force and a remarkable 20 percent of worldwide venture capital dollars. With only 2 percent of America’s population, the Bay Area creates 3 percent of its gross domestic product. We are the home base for 7 percent of the world’s 500 largest companies and a world center for technology startups.
But the council report sees job expansion as being hammered with a one-two punch. A swollen debt load for public employee pensions is draining local governments, forcing drastic cuts in essential services and endlessly delaying badly needed infrastructure upgrades. Simultaneously, ever-growing annual budget shortfalls on the state and local levels are crippling California’s once-envied public education system.
Per-pupil spending ranks near the bottom nationally, and college tuitions keep increasing. Teacher salaries, student test scores and dropout rates are mostly flat. At a time when it’s more important than ever for the state’s schools to produce an in-state work force that can compete with the best of the global economy, California is no longer where students and teachers want to come for public education excellence.
What truly is most saddening about this chipping away at the golden California dream is it’s all so unnecessary. The problems are man-made and they have congealed into a dysfunctional lawmaking structure that’s stubbornly resistant to a cure. Business as usual in Sacramento seems to be, quite simply, the biggest danger to the Bay Area economy.
In challenging times such as today, Californians just cannot afford a statehouse government that’s inefficient, unresponsive and fiercely resists becoming better.