It is ironic that the federal government is substantially meddling in the financial affairs of other entities given the dilapidated state of Washington’s own finances. First, there were the banks, investment houses and insurance companies — the most notorious being AIG. Then, the auto companies weighed in, getting their piece of bailout funds from Uncle Sam. Now, it seems the states will be next to tap the national treasury for funds that do not exist.
There is a saying, “As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.” How true these words have become since both are completely bankrupt. With the defeat this week by voters in the Golden State of ballot initiatives that would have drastically raised taxes to close a $24 billion budget gap, the state is on course for a complete financial collapse by July. Unlike the national government, California can’t print money to buy more time either (no pun intended). It must find a way to raise the funds, otherwise millions of Californians will not receive checks.
But, not to worry, Governor Schwarzenegger, Senator Boxer and other Golden Staters are putting the squeeze on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to guarantee the emergency loans California needs to meet its obligations. With the state’s credit rating in the toilet, some analysts believe federal backing is California’s only hope to secure the loans it needs. The proposal would collateralize U.S. taxpayer funds to guarantee private lenders that they would be repaid if California defaulted. The concept is to take the risk out of lending to California for banks and place it squarely — again — on the shoulders of American taxpayers.
Of course the leverage state officials are using on Geithner is that California is “too big to fail.” They claim if the state were to go belly up it would send ripples through the rest of the country and even the world. Further, if Washington allowed the collapse to take place, imagine what that would do to the confidence the rest of the world has in us to lead economically.
Clearly the feds are in a totally unenviable position. If they don’t bail Sacramento out they will look really bad, given their enormous generosity towards unscrupulous bankers and inept car makers. Since most of the money California needs to borrow will go to ordinary folks, teachers, cops, government workers, Washington can’t be seen again to favor the interests of Wall Street over Main Street. Thus, I believe there is no question that the Obama Administration will bail out California. Naturally, this is a big mistake.
In the first place, if Washington succumbs to the “too big to fail” ploy with California, then what happens if say Wyoming asks for bailout funds. Can it be denied because its economy is not nearly as important as California’s to America’s health? Is it proper to favor one group of Americans over another simply by virtue of where they live? I realize we do that now with things like highway funds, but saving one state and letting another go is a horse of a different color. What about Wyoming’s portion of the federal bailout funds for California? If Washington submits to Schwarzenegger’s request, it will open up an array of ethical and legal questions pitting states against each other.
Then there is the “moral hazard” that would result with a California bailout. Given that politicians are not very courageous when it comes to making touch choices, state bailouts by the feds would allow state officials to manage state funds even more irresponsibly. California is a perfect example. The statist politicians there have overpaid public employees, spent generously on social services, and overregulated business and the environment. Bankruptcy is the perfect solution to their reckless spending. It is what ended socialism in Eastern Europe; it should be used to end socialism in California. Without it, politicians of all stripes will believe that Uncle Sam will catch them when they fall. This will impede economic recovery and perpetrate the myth that Washington has a bottomless bank account or a bank account at all.
Which brings us to the question of where does California think the feds are going to get this money anyway? Our leaders have become oblivious to our financial condition. When you can’t pay your bills you are bankrupt. Washington has been bankrupt for a long time, but again has had the means (printing press) to put it off. And put it off the politicians have. That is why we now face the economic situation before us: a lower standard of living, mountains of debt, both personal and national, and a gigantic task of rebuilding our industrial base so that we can compete again. You see, the politicians, since at least 1971 have mortgaged our future; those bills have come due; and we don’t have the money to pay them.
So, California is not alone. “As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.” Both entities are broke. Perhaps instead of groveling to Washington to bail them out with funds Washington doesn’t have, the politicians in Sacramento can set an example for Washington to follow: deregulate, end the welfare state, disband public unions, and live within your means as a society. Wouldn’t it be nice if California led the nation in a positive way for a change?