LAT: All hail ‘economic stability,’ surpluses achieved by Gov. Brown

by Chris Reed | April 19, 2014 9:30 am

latThe ability of Gov. Jerry Brown to convince the state press corps that he has righted California’s listing ship continues to amaze. The Golden State has by far the highest poverty rate in the nation. One in six adults can’t find full-time work — the second worst rate in the U.S. At a time when income inequality is the issue du jour, California is the poster child for the problem, and with a dramatic geographic twist: Rich people are thriving in coastal areas and Silicon Valley. The rest of Cali — say, 150,000 square miles of the state’s 164,000 square miles — remains in the deep recession that most of the nation escaped two or three years ago.

So against this backdrop, what does the L.A. Times’ Chris Megerian come up with for a big overview of how California is functioning? A sunny story[1] with this headline: “California’s economic stability leaves Gov. Brown a new challenge.” Its message? This guy is a genius! If only he could get more support in the Legislature!

“Gray Davis, a fellow Democrat, was recalled by voters as state finances imploded following an energy crisis. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger limped out of office with rock-bottom poll numbers, leaving a pile of debt.

“But on Brown’s watch, deficits have become surpluses, helped along by tax hikes the governor persuaded voters to approve. More money is being pumped into schools.

“University tuition has stabilized.

“Budget standoffs that once dragged through the summer are now wrapped up by the June deadline, lending the Capitol a new sense of orderliness. And on Wednesday, the governor called a special legislative session to prod lawmakers to pass his plan for saving money and paying off debt.

“That record, which will be a major part of Brown’s reelection campaign, is due partly to good fortune. California is benefiting from a nationwide economic recovery that has helped flood the state with revenue. Brown is also blessed with a Capitol dominated by fellow Democrats and a 2010 rule change that lowered the number of votes needed to pass a spending plan.”

A worship of process, an indifference to the real world

kevin-bacon-all-is-well-remain-calm-300x273So if you read this story in a vacuum, you would believe that California had a healthy economy. That’s just not true.

You would also believe California has budget surpluses. That’s just not true. California has at least $200 billion in unfunded pension and health care oblgations to retired employees. The governor declines to ask the Legislature to provide even close to the actuarial minimum to fund these obligations. How does he finesse official budget documents to sustain the myth that the state has budget surpluses? With Enron-style accounting.

What’s going on here? How can the state with the worst poverty rate in the nation and staggering debt be depicted as nirvana?

Contrary to some libertarians and conservatives in California, I really don’t think it’s the West Coast version of Obamaphilia, where gigantic screw-ups and scandals are ignored because of idolatry and partisanship. (Do you really think the IRS hassling and impeding hundreds of conservative nonprofits during a presidential election year would be covered as it’s been if Bush were sill president and the nonprofits were liberal?)

Mainly, I think it’s a reflection of how stunned the Sacramento press corps was by the post-Pete Wilson dysfunction — the decade preceding Brown’s return to the governor’s office in which the Legislature couldn’t even pass a budget on time year after year after year.

Now that Brown, aided by Proposition 25, is able to get budgets passed, the absence of this chaos seems miraculous to the Sacramento media.

RIP, skeptical journalism. At least in Sacramento.

But instead of just giving the governor credit for restoring order to the budget process, they give him much broader credit for California’s rebound and its “economic stability.”

But what rebound? Nearly one-quarter of the state is in poverty, a much worse rate than West Virginia and Mississippi.

And what “economic stability”? If a household ignored its gigantic credit-card debts, mom and dad could pretend they were thriving. But are they really thriving?

Of course not.

In our idealized “All the President’s Men” conception of journalism, we believe that journalists hunt for discrepancies between what our leaders tell us and what is the truth. But in Sacramento, our journalists do no such thing. Instead, they put on the blinders, and reflect the view expressed in another classic 1970s movie.

Remain calm! All is well!


  1. sunny story:,0,3859739,full.story#axzz2zLXDU7XL

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