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Opinion: Columnists

Conn Carroll: What happened to the Golden State?

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Photo - Demonstrators march past the state Capitol during a protest on home foreclosures in Sacramento, Calif.,  Monday, June 25, 2012.  About 100 protestors gathered at the state Capitol and marched to two different banks, demanding that the governor, attorney general and lawmakers declare an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures in the state. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Demonstrators march past the state Capitol during a protest on home foreclosures in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, June 25, 2012. About 100 protestors gathered at the state Capitol and marched to two different banks, demanding that the governor, attorney general and lawmakers declare an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures in the state. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Day 1 of a five-part series. To see the entire series, including all five installments, video and graphics, click here

We Americans love to tell stories about ourselves. Californians may be the best ones at it. During his State of the State Address in January, California Gov. Jerry Brown spun a tale that reached all the way back to the first Spanish Missions, through the gold-seeking '49ers, and up to the founding of Apple.

"What is this but the most diverse, creative and longest standing mass migration in the history of the world," Brown said of the Golden State. "The rest of the country looks to California. Not for what is conventional, but for what is necessary to keep faith with our courageous forebears."

It's a nice story. And up through the tech boom in the late 1990s, it was largely true. California was an engine for innovation and job growth. It was a prime destination for middle-class families throughout the country who were looking for a better life.

CALIFORNIA IN CRISIS
Today: What happened to the Golden State?
Tomorrow: The California spending rush
Wednesday: Big Ed's big fail: How teachers union's are destroying California's schools
Thursday: How the environmental lobby destroyed California's infrastructure
Friday: Golden Geezers: Thanks to open borders, a generous welfare state, high taxes, land use regulations, failed education system, California is bleeding middle class families
Read the entire series at this link

But it isn't true anymore. More Americans now emigrate from California to other states than immigrate from other states to California. This exodus has cost California more than 1.5 million residents since 2000. And the reason is simple -- the jobs are fleeing first.

In his state of the state speech, Brown claimed, "California lost 1.3 million jobs in the Great Recession, but we are coming back at a faster pace than the national average." The first half of Brown's statement is true, but the second half is not. California has only gained back 556,000 jobs since the recession ended, or 42 percent of those lost -- well below the national average of 60 percent regained. As a result, California's unemployment rate is still near double-digits at 9.8 percent. By comparison, Texas, which lost 427,000 jobs during the recession, has gained them all back and created an additional 265,000.

California is no longer a model that other states want to or should emulate. It currently has the nation's third highest unemployment rate, its highest poverty rate and more than one-third of the nation's welfare recipients.

What happened?

To make a long story short, the same political constituencies that have made Brown's Democratic Party invincible at the ballot box have also made the state unable to compete economically. California public employees, who are represented by the nation's most politically powerful government unions, benefit from some of the nation's most generous compensation packages. These unions have made it nearly impossible to keep spending down, thus making debt and higher taxes inevitable.

These unions also make it impossible to improve how government services are delivered to taxpayers. As a result, while California once had the most admired education system in the nation, it now ranks near the bottom in almost every measured educational category.

The state's powerful environmental lobby has secured a slew of green energy regulations, including strict clean air rules, the nation's first carbon cap-and-trade program and an ambitious renewable energy mandate. As a result, energy prices have shot up, consumers now have less to spend on everything else they need to survive, and many manufacturers can't stay profitable in the state.

Finally, wealthy urban environmentalists have completely inverted the infrastructure spending priorities that once made California an engine of economic and population growth. Endangered species of wildlife are now favored over farmers and food. Highways and suburbs are losing out to mass transit and urban centers. The emerging result is a disappearing middle class, and what's left of the state is split between a highly educated, landed, wealthy and elderly elite, and a poor, government-dependent, uneducated lower class.

Over the next four days, The Washington Examiner will look at what ails California, and how it got to its current state of failure. We will look at the state's out-of-control budget and debt, the powerful union interests driving it, the decline of its education system, the failure of its "clean energy" initiatives and the environmental regulations that are wrecking the economy in many regions of the state.

The current trends in the Golden State point to a failing state -- a California in crisis.

Tomorrow: The California spending rush.

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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