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California’s Problems Worsened in 2023

California’s Problems Worsened in 2023

Fire trucks sit at Santa Monica Pier after a man, who claimed to have a bomb, climbed the ferris wheel and refused to come down, before he was ultimately taken into police custody, in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 9, 2023. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler

12/27/2023

Updated: 12/29/2023

Commentary
California’s political defects continued to damage the state in 2023. On the budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom began the year projecting a budget gap of $22.5 billion for fiscal year 2023–24, which began on July 1. The budget passed by the Legislature grew the deficit to $31.5 billion. And in December, the Legislative Analyst projected an even larger deficit of $68 billion for fiscal 2024–25, which begins next July 1.
Despite warnings on all fronts, the Legislature and governor kept spending and spending. Now, as 2024 approaches, they’re going to have to deal with a stagnant economy unable to generate the revenue needed for their spending sprees.
Mr. Newsom himself was distracted most of the year with speculation President Biden might drop out of the race. That would provide an opening for him to enter the Democratic primaries or, more likely, be appointed by the Democratic National Committee as its nominee. Mr. Newsom’s debate with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an announced candidate for his party’s nomination, tickled the hearts of some Democrats.
In September, Mr. Newsom took to the international stage for a week-long trip to communist China, covered in such articles as, “Gov. Newsom Embarrasses California in Meeting Dictator Xi in China.”
However, the presidential whispering did have the effect of dampening some of the more crazy elements in his party. After the Colorado Supreme Court threw former President Trump off its Republican primary ballot, pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Mr. Newsom poured cold Pacific saltwater on that idea for California, saying, “We defeat candidates at the polls.” The effect made him look like the reasonable one among the crazies in his party.
He also vetoed bills decriminalizing psychedelics, capping insulin prices, distributing free prophylactics to high schoolers, and allowing “cannabis cafes,” among others. Yet for the rest of the country, that was only a minor retreat from his overall liberalism.
He also signed six new “gun safety” bills, meaning gun control—even as federal courts keep throwing some of them out for violating the Second Amendment “right to keep and bear arms.” On Dec. 20, Judge Cormac J. Carney “issued an order to stop one of SB 2’s regulations, the ban on licensed gun carrying in a public place,” reported Fox40, because the bill violated the 2022 Bruen decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming such a right.

Housing Still Getting Worse

On the housing front, Mr. Newsom on Oct. 11 signed a package of 56 bills to ease the state’s massive housing and homelessness crises. Yet the year closed with home prices hitting record highs in Southern California, despite high interest rates and a slowing economy.
And in September, ABC News reported, “California’s unhoused population struggles with sky-high rent: ‘Once you get behind, you just can’t get up.’” AP reported on Dec. 20, “Homeless numbers in Los Angeles could surge again, even as thousands move to temporary shelter.”
Much of the problem remains the inflow of millions of immigrants across the unprotected southern border of the country. California is so expensive that other, cheaper states are prime locations, but the Golden State still gets its fair share.
Fox News reported Dec. 19, “Southern border hit by record number of migrant encounters in a single day as thousands flood into Texas: The 12,600 encounters is a new daily record for the border.” The 12,600 a day comes to 4.6 million a year.
CNN reported Nov. 13, “They live near San Diego. Migrants pass through their back yards almost nightly.” And the Washington Examiner reported Oct. 2, “The coastal region of Southern California is grappling with illegal immigration and natural disasters at the Mexico border, and local and state officials are pleading for help.
“San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond said on Monday that more than 11,000 immigrants who illegally crossed the border and were arrested have been released onto the street by border officials in the past two weeks.”

Education Stagnation

On the education front, the state continued reducing standards to accommodate politically correct goals—as reported here in September, “California’s Dumbed-Down Schooling Torpedoing US Defense vs. China, Russia.”
Not surprisingly, test scores remained at low levels. EdSource reported in October, “Flat test scores leave California far behind pre-Covid levels of achievement.” The story: “There was a slight improvement in math while English language arts declined a smidgeon, and the wide proficiency gap between Black and Latino students and whites and Asians showed little change.
“Only 34.6 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the Smarter Balanced math test in 2023, which is 1.2 percentage points higher than a year ago. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, 39.8 percent of all students were at grade level. Only 16.9 percent of Black students, 22.7 percent of Latino students, and 9.9 percent of English learners were at grade level in 2023.
“Year-over-year scores in English language arts dropped less than 1 percentage point to 46.7 percent for students meeting or exceeding standards in 2023; in 2019, it was 51.7 percent. The large proficiency gaps between Black and Hispanic students compared with Asian and white students showed little change. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, about 4 in 10 students in the state and 3 out of 4 Asian students, the highest-scoring student group, were at grade level in English language arts.”
The solution is more school choice. But as I reported in October, “Los Angeles, Oakland Underfunding Charter Schools.” The state is stuck at about 1,300 charter schools, which are innovative public schools operating largely outside the state bureaucracy, with about 11 percent of state enrollment.
Meanwhile, a National Association for Public Charter Schools study in December found charter enrollment nationwide jumped 9 percent the past 4 years: “Hispanic students make up the fastest-growing community in charter schools,” up 14 percent. Black students were up 6.3 percent. It concluded, “Families have discovered choice.”
In California, the “achievement gap” for Hispanic and black students will remain so long as the powerful California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers retain their lock-grip on the state’s politicians and block needed reforms. The kids yearn to achieve, but the unions are holding them back.

Population Decline Continues

California’s malaise is summed up in its population dropping for the third straight year. It has to be pretty bad to drive people from paradise.
In particular, the wealthy continue to flee the high taxes and brutal regulatory environment. The Tax Foundation calculated in November, using IRS data, “The states that saw the largest losses of taxpayers with $200,000 or more in AGI [Adjusted Gross Income] were California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Several of the states losing higher-income taxpayers, especially New York, California, and New Jersey, have highly progressive tax codes under which tax liability rises steeply with income. States that structure their tax codes in this manner have consistently lost higher-income residents to lower-tax states, and not only the residents, but also any associated tax revenue and entrepreneurial activity that goes along with them.”
In sum, in 2023, California’s many amenities, beginning with great weather, continued to be negated by its punitive tax and business climate, shockingly high housing costs, failing public schools, and one-party political culture. With a governor looking more to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., than to Main Street, California, matters are unlikely to improve in 2024.
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John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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