Mythical California brain drain may soon be reality

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A recent study by the Milken Institute that examined the out-migration of high-skilled California residents to other states arrived at some surprising conclusions. 

For the most part, the survey reports, the state has been able to retain both native and foreign-born skilled workers with degrees in such sought-after areas as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

That conclusion flies in the face of what many Californians have come to believe over the past few years:  that California is losing its “best and brightest” to other states because it costs too much to live here or because jobs simply aren’t available.

But despite California’s relative success in keeping much of its skilled, home-grown and immigrant talent within its borders once they graduate, the study’s authors warn that “this shouldn’t give the state license to sit back and relax, especially when competition for talent is increasingly fierce.” They point to three areas that need special attention:

The state’s sluggishness in attracting out-of-state talent.

A shrinking pool of skilled immigrants who are willing to remain here after they have completed their education.

A blighted system of higher education that is becoming ever more expensive and restrictive for native Californians.

The results of the survey imply that unless budget challenges are met, accessibility to affordable higher education is restored and the quality of life for all Californians improves, we may soon be losing the competitive edge that – in the past — made the state a pre-eminent force in business, innovation and technology.  

But as the rest of the country and the world catch up and the playing field continues to grow, the state must contend with aggressive new competition that didn’t exist during California’s Golden Age.

California needs to be able to perform on all cylinders:  education, jobs, public health and safety.  The governor and legislature need to be budgeting for the future, instead of constantly scrambling to fund yesterday’s mistakes. 

The Government Performance Accountability Act (GPAA) provides a framework for attacking some of the state’s most salient issues.  The proposal would make the state budget more stable, improve results and restore trust.

Performance goals and two-year budget cycles will focus the Governor and the Legislature on effective legislation and long-term results rather than short-term thinking and tricky budget fixes.  Pay-Go will keep the Governor and Legislature from making promises they can’t keep and incentivize lawmakers to find ways to do more with less.  The 72-hour rule will require elected officials to reach agreements that can hold up to public scrutiny.

The time to act is now. California’s problems are long-term, but the fiscal crisis has created an immediate opportunity for solutions.  The public views performance and accountability reform as essential to improving California.  A measured, tested approach is right in front of us. 

But we need to grab the golden ring before it once again passes us by.

For more info on the GPAA, click here.


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