What did you get for the holidays?
Due to California’s unprecedented financial crisis, the environmental, scientific, education, transportation and construction community got one big lump of coal. Were we naughty this year? Not hardly. The naughty were the state legislature and the Governor, which both failed to agree on a budget plan that met the laugh test in the financial community.
As a result, California (always described as something like “the eighth largest economy in the world” ) can’t sell a bond. How the mighty have fallen.
The media have done a strong job covering the budget wars and the potential impacts to state employees (10% mandatory layoffs, forced two-days-a-month furloughs, and no more cash by the end of February), but they haven’t delved into the impacts of the state’s inability to sell a bond.
California’s credit ranking is ranked 50th in the nation because we have no budget deal and can’t provide adequate information on the state of our finances. As a result of this travesty, largely due to California’s ridiculous reliance on a two-thirds supermajority requirement for budget approval, all bond-funded projects have come to a halt. That’s right — all of those projects that California voters overwhelmingly supported have been ground to a halt. No school, mass transit or road construction. No natural land purchases. No water recycling or pollution clean-up projects. No environmental or public health research efforts. No habitat restoration or environmental education.
I’ve talked to a few of my friends in the environmental field and we’re all going through the same thing. The Santa Monica BayKeeper’s kelp reforestation and Malibu Lagoon restoration efforts are at stake. The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project has numerous critical research projects in jeopardy. Heal the Bay’s aquarium improvements, StreamTeam restoration and monitoring efforts, and inland watershed efforts could all be in trouble. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and the California Coastal Conservancy have told all of their grantees to stop work because there are no bond dollars to pay for these projects. Land purchases by all state conservancies are at risk because the deals don’t have the money to close.
Where is the statewide outrage? All of us have friends and family that have taken major hits in the global, national and California financial crisis yet anger over the impacts of California’s seemingly permanent budget impasse seems to be lost in a sea of despair precisely because of the overwhelming magnitude of the overall meltdown.
As a result, the public is not effectively holding state elected officials accountable for California’s share of the crisis. This calamity is the largest test of leadership in California in our lifetime, yet finger pointing and childish “no new revenue” cries are still the order of the day.
Bottom line — the earliest that California will sell bonds and provide funding to projects will be early to mid February. In the mean time, the very bond measures that voters have passed that can provide a critical economic stimulus to California while improving education, infrastructure and the environment, may now lead to massive job losses because of the stop work notices we all received on Dec. 19 That’s right. Like so many others in the corporate sector that have suffered this holiday season, we received stop-work notices right before Christmas, retroactive to two days earlier, in gross violation of our grant agreements and contracts. ‘Tis the season.
Have a wonderful 2009. It has to be a heck of a lot better than 2008! The upcoming inauguration of the Obama administration gives us something we’ve been missing for a long time: reason for hope. I hope and pray that we can get through this period relatively unscathed. There is too much at stake for us to allow the budget impasse to continue. It is our job to make sure that all of our elected officials not only listen, but act immediately to stave off California’s rapid economic plummet and rising unemployment.