Optimism in bad times

September 11, 2009|By Jim Righeimer

I received a lot of comments and calls about last week’s column (“Things look bad for California,” Rigonomics, Sept. 5).

Some thought I was being too negative. Believe me, it is a lot more fun doing happy stories. I have always been a “cup half full” kind of guy.

My closest business partners will tell you that in the face of calamity, I always put a positive spin on things to the point that they think I see the world with rose-colored glasses.


The fact is, these are not happy times, and the public will remember 2009 as the summer of discontent.

Recently, the Public Policy Institute of California released the results of its 101st statewide survey of 2,000 California residents that backed up those feelings. These are serious times, and Californians are starting to get more serious.

When times are good, the public does not have to worry about what is happening in Sacramento or their own city. So they don’t. When times get bad, every action gets close scrutiny.

The problem with this on-again, off-again input from the public is that the bad decisions are made in the good times when no one is looking.

The laws to pay exorbitant pensions to public employees were passed when the economy was good and the stock market high. Who cares if you give public employees 90% pensions at 50 years of age when the state retirement fund is over-funded with bubble-priced tech stocks? Not wanting to upset the public safety unions, most Republican legislators also went along.

Now, of course, when the tech bubble burst and tech stocks crashed, the pensions were underfunded by billions. Republicans pounded their chests and said how reckless the tax-and-spend Democrats were to allow these outrageous pensions.

So what did the poll tell us? Of those polled, 67% say the state can expect bad times financially for the next 12 months. With California unemployment higher than most of the country, getting close to post-Depression highs, it is easy to see why they felt that way. Almost 50% were concerned that they or someone in their family would be out of a job in the next year.

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