Update On The Golden State

by Conor Friedersdorf

Peter Robinson says California's new governor is performing better than he expected. And I agree! I thought sure I'd roll my eyes for the whole of his "state of the state" speech – we've had a long run of terrible leadership in the Golden State – but the course he's charted actually seems relatively sane, and as Tim Cavanaugh points out, his decision to take on the state's strangely powerful redevelopment agencies is inspired.

Moreover, newspapers in the state seem to be churning out stories of unsustainable state spending on a weekly basis. It seems the Brown Administration is uncovering some of the waste to which Governor Schwarzenegger frequently alluded but seldom identified specifically. Here's one example from the Sacramento Bee:

The state of California paid entrepreneur Marshall Pryor about $9,000 a month to care for one developmentally disabled young man in a south Sacramento care home he ran. Pryor said the home earned its keep. The young man would become violent at unpredictable moments and required around-the-clock supervision. In one instance, the man threw a television out the facility's window. "Wherever he went, we had to be there with him," Pryor said. "One time, he just came up and, whack, hit me in the face."

As it turns out, state taxpayers may have been getting a deal out of Pryor at $108,000 a year. The state can pay wildly varying rates, up to $250,000 a year per person, to fulfill its legal obligation to care for developmentally disabled people, despite laws meant to cap the costs of such programs.

This is the Golden State in microcosm. Do I want needy, developmentally disabled individuals to be the recipient of state funds? I do! But it doesn't take a policy wonk to understand that you can't pay up to $250,000 a year per person. There just isn't enough money. I'll try to dig into this in the next few days. I'd bet a handsome sum I'll discover that there are states that spend less than California on analogous programs, but that provie better care to the disabled people in question. That's true for a lot of what our state government does.

For now, Jerry Brown seems as though he's helping make matters better. At minimum he's garnering accolades from unlikely quarters (though Cavanaugh is less impressed here).