Thursday, September 8, 2011




Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, when California solidified its position as America’s most populous state, it was common for demographers and trackers of trends to say that “When California catches cold, the rest of the nation sneezes.” They meant that California was the unquestioned national trend-setter.

Back then, analysts were thinking of things like the rise of the Silicon Valley-based electronics industry and the spread of property tax limits like this state’s Proposition 13 to dozens of other states.

Those were prosperous times for California, times when state legislators debated what to do with budget surpluses: Should they send the extra cash back to taxpayers or save it for the proverbial rainy day. Wisely or not, the giveback idea prevailed, with millions of checks sent to taxpayers on the presumption that good times would keep on rolling.

This is a very different time, with a prevailing presumption of perpetual financial troubles and high unemployment, even though Californians produced about $2 trillion worth of goods and services last year, more than 1,000 times the amount of the largest budget deficit California government has ever had to deal with.

But even in these rough times, there’s still truth to the old maxim about the rest of the nation being affected whenever California twitches. For example, demographers predicted when Latino children in the ‘80s became a majority in California’s largest school district – Los Angeles – it was a sign that Latinos would be at least a plurality of the state’s population within 50 years. The Census reported that in 2010, Latinos made up 37.6 percent of California’s populace, compared to 40.1 percent for “majority” white Anglos.

That puts Latinos solidly on track to fulfill the predictions made when Hispanic schoolchildren began to outnumber all others.

Now the same thing is happening across the nation. Latinos have beceome a majority of public school students in both Texas and Arizona, though not as large a majority – yet – as they are here. The trend is the same almost everywhere else, too, as the Census showed higher than expected numbers of Latinos in virtually every state, including places like South Carolina and Louisiana, where their numbers were as much as 20 percent higher than predicted.

So what began in one big California school district has now become a national phenomenon.

It’s the same with the state budget, where gimmickry and deficits became standard procedure here through most of the last decade. Now more than half the other states have similar problems, as does the federal government.

And the extreme acrimony of California’s political climate also went national. Congressional splits and hard feelings over budgets, welfare and environmental issues echo almost precisely what occurred first in California’s Legislature, where no-new-taxes pledges on one side and fealty to labor unions on the other often lead to deadlock and gridlock.

Just as California has made budgetary decisions that will have long-term economic consequences and impacts that cost lives – including persistent delays in requiring hospitals and schools to make earthquake retrofits and cutbacks in public education at all levels – federal budget decisions and those in other states are now creating similar problems.

Texas, for one, has just made far larger cuts in its public education system than California ever contemplated. The consequences will include a poor economic future for the two-thirds of Texas schoolchildren who are now Latinos or other “minorities.” Not to mention Caucasian students.

And the springtime federal budget compromise included, as just one potentially fatal example, a $4 billion cutback in funds for the Federal Aviation Administration. That will lead to far fewer inspections of commercial aircraft and very likely more incidents like the April episode in which a five-foot hole opened in the roof of a Southwest Airlines plane. There will also be fewer air traffic controllers, increasing the likelihood of airliner collisions.

Just as California has cut spending on Medi-Cal and the Healthy Children program, other states are now reducing their own Medicaid spending and face the risk of epidemics and other public health problems that respect no political or economic boundaries. And congressional Republicans want to slash even more from both Medicare and Medicaid, the equivalent of Medi-Cal in the other 49 states.

It’s all firm evidence that being biggest often means that both opportunities and problems strike you first. And it makes ever more clear than whatever happens in California still spreads beyond state lines, very soon.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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