We boast often about the abundant wonders of living on the Central Coast. We have mostly incomparable weather, and the rolling hills and verdant valleys are spectacular.
When we aren’t captivated by the landscape, we simply turn in the other direction, to gaze upon an ocean whose surface sparkles like a carpet of diamonds on a sunny afternoon.
Every so often, however, we get a dash of harsh reality in our world of wonder. Last week’s little earthquake in the Santa Ynez Valley was a reminder of the potential lurking deep in Earth’s crust. A string of winter storms can wreak havoc on hillsides scoured of vegetation by the previous summer’s wildfires.
But, by and large, we live in a paradise.
Not everyone sees California in such a gilded light, though. The folks at 24/7 Wall St., a business news organization, recently painted a bleak picture of California in their annual best-and-worst states survey.
The study is based on how states perform financially, what level of living standard its residents enjoy, employment, the availability of government services and how well each state is managed.
And, for the second consecutive year, California ranks dead last in 24/7 Wall St.’s list of best and worst states. This year’s best-run state is North Dakota — although it’s difficult for a true Californian to comprehend why anyone would want to live there.
The survey’s best-run states all have top credit ratings and well-managed budgets. California is the only state whose credit rating has been downgraded to A. Most states are either AAA or, at worst, AA.
Nine of the 10 highest-ranked states have unemployment rates of under 7 percent. North Dakota’s jobless rate is under 3.5 percent, while California’s is 11.7, the second-highest in the nation.
To be fair, California suffered proportionately far more than many other states during the Great Recession, in large part because home values — a huge component of the California economy — dropped more than 50 percent in some areas of the state, and averaged a decline of nearly 34 percent statewide.
One bright spot is that California’s median income is the 10th-best in the United States, although that spot dims considerably when you add the next bit of information — California also has one of the most severe income tax burdens of all states.
The 24/7 Wall St. folks explain that the best/worst rankings are most reliably a reflection of external factors, such as bad weather and poor governance. Unfortunately, California has regular episodes of both.
There isn’t a lot we can do about the weather. It is what it is, and the best way to deal with foul weather is to be prepared. Nor can we do much about earthquakes and large fires, except to have a plan when one occurs.
There is, however, a lot we can do about poor governance, and it boils down to this — we cannot settle for less than the best.
First, we must make ourselves better informed voters. We need to learn the issues, separate the gems from the junk, choose what suits us the most, and then go with candidates who share our perspective.
Second, we should demand a better performance from those we elect to local, state and federal offices. When they fail to live up to our expectations, we cannot be reluctant to cut them loose at the next election, and hammer on them while they’re still in office.
Good government is the key to pulling California back to the top.