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Let's Get Serious

August 17, 1986

It is encouraging that some California institutions are beginning to take a look at the future of the Golden State and ponder its problems as well as its prospects. No one can forecast events that will shape California in the years ahead, but it is evident that the state will continue to grow. How well the state grows depends on what its leaders do about it now.

Two recent reports attempt to look at California in the year 2000 and assess its challenges as well as its promises. One, by Wells Fargo & Co., focuses on the economy. The other, by the state Assembly Office of Research, examines the state's needs in the area of human resources.

The Wells Fargo report portrays an optimistic future for California's economy, projecting annual growth in the gross state product of 3.6%, from $485 billion in 1985 to $820 billion in 2000. Increased profits, new jobs and higher incomes are practically assured, it says. Population is expected to increase to 33 million, a gain of 7 million.

That growth and prosperity will not be possible, however, unless the state deals with a number of problems including the deterioration of freeways and other public works. Unless the state invests heavily in its infrastructure now, business growth will be restrained and the standard of living will decline here. But the banking firm's report says that the quality of education may be even more vital, noting, "Virtually every aspect of the state's education system is in need of improvement."

The Assembly report focuses on education and the needs of the elderly, concluding that "the increased numbers of very young and very old Californians will create shock waves felt in the next decade and a half as these populations make increasing demands on state services." California's ability to cope with these demands will be hampered by the arbitrary restraints imposed on government by Proposition 13 and the Gann limits on state budgeting, the Assembly office notes.

The vantage points of the reports differ, but the conclusions are similar: California must get serious about planning for the future now or the future will not be much to anticipate. Nor can any one segment of California life be examined in isolation. In the words of the Assembly report, the economy is "the plane upon which our human and natural resources intersect."

There is a dichotomy in the Wells Fargo report that is indicative of the business community's ongoing dilemma with the role of government. It urges government investment in the facilities and services required to accommodate economic growth. At the same time, it applauds actions that the state has taken to overcome a negative business image of high taxes, excessive bureaucracy and restrictive zoning laws--that is, a more pliant and passive government.

But California can't have it both ways. Only if the state has a vigorous government that builds the necessary public works, provides an outstanding educational establishment and maintains an attractive environment will people and businesses want to invest their futures here. The essential building blocks include an adequate tax base and the collective will of all Californians to get the job done.

California always has been the vanguard of progress and promise in the United States, the place where the future could be molded to the people's needs and desires. In recent years, however, the state seems to have lost its enthusiasm for building for the future. California can regain that edge going into the 21st Century, but only if it lays the groundwork now.

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