Opinion: Columnists

Can conservatives prevent the U.S. from becoming California?

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Opinion,Conn Carroll,Columnists,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

As bad as last Tuesday night was for the national Republican Party, it was far, far worse for the California Republican Party. Not only did Golden State Democrats maintain control of every statewide elected office; not only did Gov. Jerry Brown's $6 billion Proposition 30 tax hike pass by solid margins; but Democrats also secured supermajorities in both state legislative chambers. Now, Brown and the Democrats can raise taxes by as much as they want.

The California Republican Party is functionally dead. And how is California doing, now that liberals have successfully terminated the state's remaining conservatives?

For starters, it's still in debt. Despite Brown's historic tax hike, the California Legislative Analyst's Office announced this week that the state still faces a $2 billion budget deficit just for the next fiscal year. California's liberal electorate has already racked up an additional $370 billion in state and local debt over that last decade. That is more than 20 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

According to the California State Budget Crisis Task Force, that comes to more than $10,000 in debt for every Californian. And because the state's credit rating is so low, California taxpayers must fork over about $2 for every new dollar borrowed. In 2012 alone, the state budget included more than $7.5 billion in debt service -- more than most states' budgets.

Don't think for a second that California's chronic deficits are caused by low taxes. Even before last Tuesday's tax hikes, California had the most progressive income tax system in the nation, with seven brackets, and the second-highest top marginal rate. Now it has the nation's highest top marginal rate and the nation's highest sales tax. And the budget still isn't balanced.

The real cause for California's fiscal crisis is simple: They spend too much money. Between 1996 and 2012, the state's population grew by just 15 percent, but spending more than doubled, from $45.4 billion to $92.5 billion (in 2005 constant dollars).

What are Californians getting for all this government spending? According to a new census report released Friday, almost one-quarter, 23.5 percent, of all Californians are in poverty. One-third of all the nation's welfare recipients live in the state, despite the fact that California has only one-eighth of the country's population. That's four times as many as the next-highest welfare population, which is New York. Meanwhile, California eighth-graders finished ahead of only Mississippi and District of Columbia students on reading and math test scores in 2011.

Middle-class families that want actual jobs, not welfare, are fleeing California in droves. According to IRS data compiled by the Manhattan Institute, since 2000, almost 2 million Americans have left California for other states. Their most popular destination: Texas.

It isn't a tough move to make. Thanks to low taxes and simple regulations, Chief Executive magazine ranked Texas as the best state to do business in for 2012. Guess who ranked dead last? That's right, California. And not only does Texas (6.8 percent) have a far lower unemployment rate than California (10.2 percent), but, according to the Census Bureau, income inequality is worse in California than it is in Texas.

In his 1964 speech "A Time for Choosing," Ronald Reagan recounted a conversation between a Cuban refugee and two American businessmen. When the Americans remarked at how lucky they were to live in America, the Cuban responded, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to."

"And in that sentence he told us the entire story," Reagan continued. "If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth."

And so it is with America today. Conservatives can not let what has happened to California happen to the rest of America. Those middle-class families fleeing California would have nowhere to go.

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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