California Dreaming, Ontario’s nightmare

Vic Fideli, North Bay Nippising
The dismal financial situations facing Ontario and California are clearly compared in a recently-released study. Both jurisdictions have crushing deficits of about $16 billion. Sadly for us, California is about three times our size, making it a fiscal darling compared to us.

After reading many similar articles, I headed to California to see firsthand what Ontario might look like in the near future.

My wife Patty and I have many fond memories of our trips through California. You can imagine our surprise at the sight of garbage piling up along the highway between San Francisco and Stockton, which joined San Bernardino and Vallejo in declaring bankruptcy. This is the tip of the iceberg – many more cities are teetering on the edge.

Assigning blame for California’s problems depends on which side of the political spectrum you fall. The right points the finger at high public-sector wages and generous pensions and benefits. The left blames the bursting of the real estate bubble. What cannot be disputed is the fact that the cities in bankruptcy overspent. When assessments fell, revenues fell – and they couldn’t pay their bills.

According to Michael Lewis, in his gripping book Boomerang, Vallejo is the city to pity most. “The lobby of City Hall is completely empty. It’s just a collection of empty cubicles. Eighty per cent of the city’s budget – and the lion’s share of the claims that had thrown it into bankruptcy – were wrapped up in the pay and benefits.”

Now, the city manager runs the entire city of 116,000 with a staff of one. “When she goes out to the bathroom she has to lock the door.”

On our trip, we passed hundreds of wind turbines as we drove to the historic community of Sonora. This is in the heart of gold country, as it has been since the original gold rush of 1849. Today, thanks to expensive energy, the mines are closed and logging operations are silent. Museums were closed because of staffing cuts. The streets were empty. But what we did see was a lot of casinos! Read article

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