In 2009, Illinois ranked 38th in "cost of doing business" and 47th in "business friendliness".
California has reached a tipping point. Its government made more promises than its economy can easily support. For years, state leaders papered over the contradiction with loans and modest changes. By overwhelming these expedients, the recession triggered an inevitable reckoning.
Here's the national lesson. There's a collision between high and rising demands for government services and the capacity of the economy to produce the income and tax revenue to pay for those demands. That's true of California, where poor immigrants and their children have increased pressures for more government services. It's also true of the nation, where an aging population raises Social Security and Medicare spending. California is leading the transformation of politics into a form of collective torture: pay more (higher taxes), get less (lower services).
Make no mistake: The spending cuts and tax increases the state enacted to bridge its budget deficits are not cosmetic. In February, the Legislature agreed to a penny increase in the state sales tax, bringing the total -- including local sales taxes -- to about nine cents or more. Top income tax rates, already among the highest in the country, were raised. So were motor vehicle registration fees. Spending cuts approved in February and July are deep. Together, the cuts equal almost 30 percent of the general revenue fund and will affect schools, prisons, colleges and welfare.
National parallels again seem apparent. Federal budget deficits -- reflecting the urge to spend and not tax -- predate the recession and, as baby boomers retire, will survive any recovery. Amazingly, the Obama administration would worsen the long-term outlook by expanding federal health insurance coverage. There's much mushy thinking about how we'll muddle through.
On paper, the state could solve its budget problems by raising taxes further. But in practice, that might backfire by weakening the economy and tax base. California scores poorly in state ratings of business climate. In a CNBC survey, it ranked 32nd overall but last in "cost of business" and 49th in "business friendliness."
So California is stretched between a precarious economy and a strong popular desire for government. The state's wrenching experience suggests that, as a nation, we should begin to pare back government's future commitments to avoid a similar fate. But California's experience also suggests we'll remain in denial, prisoners of wishful thinking, until the fateful reckoning arrives in the unimagined future.