Report: Lack of education, poor infrastructure threaten Calif. future
Associated Press
Jun. 2, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO - Over the next two decades, California's population will soar, its freeways will further clog and manufacturing jobs will slip away - but its future may not be all doom and gloom, a new report suggests.

The report, released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, found that despite having up to 48 million residents by 2025 and with most of the growth in areas lacking enough infrastructure - the state can manage over the next two decades.

"What we learned is that things aren't as bad as they've been portrayed," said senior institute analyst Mark Baldassare. "The state is definitely at a critical juncture, but not necessarily a crisis. All that being said, as we look at the next 20 years, not all is rosy."

With a current population of nearly 37 million people, high cost of living and famously congested traffic, many analysts have dismissed the nation's most populous state as unsustainable and ungovernable. So the researchers examined demographic and social trends to determine whether the gloomy forecasts were accurate.

The report identified several positive trends.

While California is likely to add the equivalent of the population of Ohio in the next two decades, the rate of growth will continue to slow. And the economic shift from manufacturing to service industries will prove less taxing on infrastructure and natural resources.

Still, the report noted that even with a slower growth rate, California's roadways and other infrastructure have not caught up with the population boom of the 1980s and 1990s. And the fastest growth is taking place in the Central Valley in the middle of the state and Inland Empire east of Los Angeles - areas not equipped to handle more traffic, educate more kids and house more people.

"We anticipate congestion could increase by 48 percent," Baldassare said. "That's a number which suggests it could affect quality of life if we don't make the right decisions about the transportation economy."

One of the biggest challenges is an undereducated work force, particularly among the state's large Hispanic population, Baldassare said. While the economy sheds manufacturing for service jobs that require a college education, Hispanics are at risk of being marginalized in the evolving work force.

While Hispanics will become the state's largest ethnic group by 2011 and constitute a majority by 2040, they are less likely to receive a college education. The report forecast that with service jobs growing in areas such as health care, information technology and biotechnology, 39 percent of jobs will require a college degree by 2025.

"For our economy to grow, we need more college graduates," Baldassare said. "If Latinos don't achieve college graduation, we'll face the possibility of high employment and high health and human services expenditures. And the state won't have the revenue."

The report noted that heavy reliance on bonds to finance important needs, particularly road building and repair, could make long-term infrastructure investment impossible unless the cycle of borrowing is replaced by tax increases or fee increases.

Baldassare said the report had been written to stimulate discussion in state and local government, the public and private sectors, and a voting public he characterized as disengaged and distrustful.

He said Californians must be willing to consider all options for solving the state's revenue problems, including potential changes to Proposition 13, the 1978 landmark legislation that slashed commercial and property taxes.

"What kind of a state will this be if we don't consider all options?" Baldassare asked. "Increased commuting time. A population that doesn't have the education to take advantage of economic opportunity. There's a lot at stake for everyone."

That recommendation got a cool reception from Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, which works to protect and promote Proposition 13. "The state doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem," he said.


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