Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Is California’s economy booming? Not really

Sheep graze among wind turbines near Rio Vista. Their power flows to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which is, like other utilities, under a state mandate to shift from fossil fuel and hydropower sources to renewables.
Sheep graze among wind turbines near Rio Vista. Their power flows to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which is, like other utilities, under a state mandate to shift from fossil fuel and hydropower sources to renewables. Sacramento Bee file

Kevin de León, the state Senate’s president pro tem, has been making his way slowly to a global conference on climate change in Paris next month.

One of his stops, last week, was London, where he spoke to a group of British legislators and business leaders, touting the economic benefits of California’s efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

“We have the world’s seventh largest economy, and we have robust job growth that outpaces the rest of the nation, all while reducing carbon emissions and cleaning up the air we breathe,” de León said, according to a release from his office.

De León and Gov. Jerry Brown are planning to attend the Paris conference – whose focus may change somewhat after last week’s terrorist attacks – to trumpet California as a global leader in carbon reduction, even though the Legislature killed a central part of their legislation.

They were forced to remove a provision calling for a 50 percent reduction in automotive petroleum use by 2030 to save the rest of the de León-authored bill that tightens up requirements on electric power utilities to shift to renewable sources.

Brown has often joined de León in claiming that carbon-reduction efforts, particularly the mandate on utilities to shift to renewable sources of power, are building, not damaging, the state’s economy.

However, there’s no reason to believe there’s any more than a tangential relationship between the two. California has barely begun to crack down on carbon emissions so its effect on the state’s economy, positive or negative, has been infinitesimal.

Furthermore, California’s economy is not really booming.

A few sectors, principally the Bay Area’s technology industry, are doing very well, but recovery from the Great Recession elsewhere has been spotty.

Our job-growth rate is far from the nation’s highest, our unemployment rate is 10th highest, and our underemployment rate is third highest. We also are No. 1 in poverty with nearly a quarter of Californians impoverished.

Two days after de León delivered his upbeat speech to the British elite, the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy, chaired by fellow Democrat Eduardo Garcia, staged a hearing in Ontario on economic disparity.

Its staff briefing paper noted the state’s emergence from recession, but added, “Unfortunately the benefits of this recovery have not reached all areas of the state and only a select segment of the population is sharing in the resulting prosperity.”

While those on the economic ladder’s top rungs are doing very well, the report continued, “many other Californians, however, are not thriving and continue to experience significant levels of unemployment, steeply rising housing and higher education costs, and stagnant wages and incomes.”

It appears that de León and Brown are getting their economic data from California’s one-percenters, rather than reality. And that’s especially odd, given that de León represents one of the state’s poorest Senate districts.

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