- - Monday, April 2, 2018

Californians have always lived with the fear that a really big rumble along the San Andreas fault, and there goes Hollywood’s tinsel, San Francisco’s templed hills and the wild northern California coast, sliding headlong into the Pacific.

Once mocked as the denizens of the land of fruit and nuts, Californians have nevertheless seemed to enjoy more of everything. The rest of the country celebrates only four seasons — winter, spring, summer and autumn — but California has four more: Wildfires, mudslides, earthquakes and riots.

California has suffered Brown-outs with two governors, father and son, and other spendthrift administrations have spread profligacy and debt in their wake. (What happens in California, alas, does not stay in California.)

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Once the global leader on infrastructure, California now spends less, as a percentage of its state budget, than any other state. In terms of preparing for the future, writes Joel Kotkin, author of “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us,” California’s penchant for endless studies and environmental hand-wringing is fostering the kind of condition of Louisiana before Katrina, “rather than the forward-looking capital investments previously the state’s hallmark.”

Nevertheless, with almost 40 million people, millions of them illegal aliens who make up a significant part of the state’s population, California muddles on. But not without growing difficulty. The illegals usually don’t speak English, as if by right, and millions don’t bother to take up U.S. citizenship or even legal residence, even though two-thirds of them have lived in the state for at least a decade. It’s as if they’re waiting for a different, more familiar citizenship.

California’s increasingly fragile finances, reflected in a current state budget of $190 billion, has an estimated $1.6 billion deficit, is worsened by what appears to be a switch from a net inflow to a net outflow of men, women and children. Most of the population growth last year came from local births, which outpaced deaths by 220,000.

Although 80,000 people were added to the population, more people moved out of California, particularly to Texas and Florida, than moved in from other states, particularly the cold-weather Northeast. Worse, those leaving further drained the state’s middle class, taking with them the long-admired entrepreneurial pulse of the state.

Foreign immigration made up much of the difference, pushing the population close to the 40-million mark, larger than the population of Canada or Australia. These migrants are largely “illegals” or “undocumenteds,” which explains why California’s Democratic politicians are eager to give arriving felons a pass, not only to escape deportation but criminal prosecution as well. A sanctuary law, enacted in a burst of piety and generosity, was intended to protect illegal aliens who have never seemed to get the hang of obeying the law. The illegals are expected by the Democratic politicians to take out citizenship as soon as possible and vote Democratic ever after.

This leads to conflict with local and state government jurisdictions that oppose protecting the lawless. Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, with a long-term unemployment rate averaging 8.5 percent, has warned her illegals, some with felony convictions, that the Feds are coming to get them.

California is trying to use its size to defy federal law. Nothing quite like this has been seen since 1865, when a similar attempt to interpose state sovereignty between a state and the federal government was finally decided at Appomattox, only after four years of horrific strife, counting more dead and wounded than in any of the nation’s other wars.

The policy and legal confusion being created is hard to exaggerate. If there’s a Lincoln waiting out there no one has yet seen him, so it falls to President Trump to assert federal jurisdiction, and it will require more than a tweet storm. The longer the wait, the more the confusion will grow.

“If the Trump administration is serious about improving infrastructure in America as a whole,” Joel Kotkin says, “it should keep the experience of California in mind. That means, first, that it needs to reform regulatory and tort policy so that prospective projects aren’t as a rule subject to endless reviews and lawsuits that halt them in their tracks.”

There was a time within living memory when California was supposed to set the example for the nation with the new and sometimes useful, like right turn on red, salad before the main course, and the right to be constantly entertained by extravagant fantasy. But now comes real life.

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