If nothing else, the three debates between gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman have distilled differences on one of California's most pressing problems: jobs. Curiously, each candidate proposes to use government to stimulate job growth but from radically different perspectives.
Brown believes that California's future lies in the creation of "green" jobs in areas such as solar panels, electric cars, smart grids, and alternative energy. He believes that legislation such as AB 32, California's effort to reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Indeed, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has pointed to tens of thousands of jobs created in the past couple of years. Brown says that the environmental legislation enacted during his governorship in the 1970s is the forerunner to the kind of thinking that has emerged with AB32.
Whitman believes that California's future will be best insured through tax breaks to corporations which, in turn, will use the additional funds to hire new workers. In addition, she wants to cut capital gains taxes by $5 billion. The money saved from these changes will create new jobs and those holding the new positions will pay taxes that will more than offset any temporary losses to the state budget. This, she says, is the only way for California to be competitive with the rest of the world as well as other states. Otherwise, businesses are sure to leave.
Each candidate's ideas would seem to have a hitch. For Brown, if his administration set the tone for green jobs, why does California languish with 12.4 percent unemployment today, a figure considerably higher than the national average of 9.6 percent? For Whitman, how can she argue that tax cutting will create more jobs to balance the budget when those efforts failed miserably with the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which led to huge budget deficits on each occasion?
Try as they may, the job programs of both candidates simply won't address California's massive deficit and shrinking ability to address critical issues such as underfunded public education and a decimated infrastructure. Neither candidate will say what really lies ahead--additional revenue sources--because that screams "taxes" of one kind or another to many.
Still, the facts are clear. From potholes to student performance to prisons, California is a mess by any standard, and neither green jobs nor additional tax cuts will save the day.