THE STATES WE’RE IN
by Hendrik Hertzberg
The New Yorker
AUGUST 24, 2009
The states of the Union are supposed to be laboratories of democracy, but this summer they have been looking more like toxic-waste dumps of futility. From coast to coast, from tundra to coral reef, state governments are in an awful fix. Their budget gaps are on track to add up to at least a third of a trillion dollars. In half the states, education funding is being cut, which means bigger classes, shoddier facilities, and fewer frills like music, art, languages, and library
books. States are closing parks, draining rainy-day funds, and shrinking services for children, the elderly, and the disabled. . . . . . . .
California, it turns out, is ungovernable. Its public schools, once the nation’s best, are now among the worst. Its transportation and water systems are deteriorating. Its prisons are so overcrowded that it has to turn tens of thousands of felons loose. And its legislature has spent most of the year in a farcical effort to pass the annual
budget, leaving little or no time for other matters, such as—well, schools, transportation, water, and prisons. This is “normal”: the same thing has happened in eighteen of the past twenty-two years. But the addition of economic disaster to legislative paralysis may have brought California to a tipping point.