There is a Citigroup report out that bond watchers are now worried about Fresno following Stockton into bankruptcy — which would be, if true, a much more serious calamity given Fresno’s far greater size and budget.
Throughout California’s Central Valley, almost everyone the last decade or more has witnessed a perfect storm of events that evoked a reaction to each day’s news along the lines of “This can’t go on.” To pick up a paper is to collate familiar categories of stories — huge public pension and salary agreements, coupled with warnings from analysts at the time that they were unsustainable; reports of exoduses of high-income earners from the center of the state (both to the coast and out of state); near-constant carnage of shootings, felony-car-accidents, and random mayhem that put each day hundreds of the uninsured into public-supported emergency rooms and hospitals; daily lawsuits against municipalities and schools on behalf of various aggrieved parties; vast increases in Medi-Cal and public-assistance rolls; and schools whose test scores are among the nation’s very lowest and whose rates of violence are not.
That things have gone on as usual until now and for so long is a testament to the enormous wealth generated by central California agriculture and gas and oil, as well as the state’s general wealth from everything from Napa Valley to Silicon Valley — even in times of slow national growth and high unemployment. But even with all that, we are reaching the end stages, as we see first with these tottering cities, where the vast revenue cannot match the even more vast expenditures.
Or in simple terms, those entities that can be taxed great amounts are shrinking and those who rely on great amounts of redistributed tax revenue are growing. And yet to suggest public-employee compensation reform, school-curriculum reform, closed borders with Mexico, tax reform, and a changed attitude about regulation and litigation would earn ostracism everywhere from a Newport Beach dock party to a Sonoma wine tasting. Unfortunately, proposed higher taxes, mandatory gay studies in the schools, the DREAM Act, sanctuary cities, court-mandated irrigation cut-offs, boundaries on new gas and oil exploration, tearing down historic bridges in Yosemite, or dreaming about blowing up the Hetch Hetchy dam are not going to address the underlying problems.
So fears of impending bankruptcies — first in the state’s center, later perhaps even on the coast — will probably grow.