California, once an economic engine beyond compare, is spluttering on the road to complete breakdown. But in an era when some companies are thought to be too big to fail, some of its top officials have sought a bailout from the Obama administration.
No luck. The administration has turned its back on pleas for emergency aid. Policy makers in Washington have not dismissed helping California in the future, but for the moment it's up to Sacramento to get its act together.
That is OK with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says he has not sought emergency help. Although last month he sought a $6 billion federal loan guarantee to back the state's debt, he recognizes that the state has the responsibility to get its own house in order. Indeed it does.
California's problems are very much the result of the collective choices it has made in the past, both by its elected officials and its people through the referendum process. Those choices have come home to roost as the economy has deteriorated.
In Pennsylvania, the people have no say in making laws. In California, the ballot initiative has been used so promiscuously that the state has become almost un-governable. Add to that a strong aversion of taxes -- this is the state, after all, of Proposition 13 and Ronald Reagan -- and hard choices have become impossible ones.
As recently as May 19, the governor pleaded with voters to pass half a dozen ballot measures that would have made a hefty dent in the projected $21 billion deficit. Despite the governor's warning that California would become "the poster child for dysfunction," many didn't even bother to vote.
The full extent of dysfunction is not yet clear, but education and social services are likely to be shredded. That the Obama administration is unwilling to heap gold on the golden state should concentrate the minds of California lawmakers. It also sends a signal to other struggling states that the buck stops with them.
The sour economy has served to underscore an old maxim: In this life, you get what you pay for. From Sacramento to Harrisburg, the questions are the same: What are people willing to pay? Will they like what they get for it?