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Archive for the ‘California’ Category

I like to think that I occasionally put together interesting and persuasive charts on fiscal policy.

For instance, I think it’s virtually impossible to make a credible argument for tax hikes after looking at my chart showing how easy it is to balance the budget with modest spending restraint.

But I’ll freely confess that no chart of mine can compare to this powerful image created by my Cato colleague, Andrew Coulson, which shows how spending and staffing for the government school monopoly have exploded while enrollment and performance have been stagnant.

As far as I’m concerned, no honest person can look at his chart and defend the current system.

But some folks may need some more evidence about the failure of government schools, so let’s look at stories from both ends of America.

We’ll start on the east coast. Writing for the Daily Caller, Eric Owens reports that bureaucrats in a New Jersey town are being handsomely rewarded for not educating students.

Only 19 students in the public school system in Paterson, N.J. who have taken the SAT scored high enough to be considered college ready, local Fox affiliate WWOR-TV reports. At the same time, 66 employees in the Paterson school district each soak taxpayers for salaries of at least $125,000 per year, the Paterson Press reports. …Paterson is no tiny town. It is, in fact, the third-largest city in New Jersey. The population is roughly 146,000 people. …The city boasts some 50 public schools altogether. There are over 24,000 total students in all grades.

But the folks in Paterson can be proud of their government schools. After all, they’re doing much better than Camden.

In December 2013, Camden’s then-new superintendent of public schools announced that only three — THREE! — students in the entire district who took the SAT during the 2011-12 academic year scored high enough to qualify as college-ready.

Last but not least, the story notes that the school district has concocted a clever strategy to avoid any more embarrassing stories.

You’re probably wondering whether this means school choice? Rigorous standards? Better discipline?

Nope, nope, and nope. Remember, we’re dealing with government bureaucracy.

Back in Paterson, school officials say they have cleverly dealt with their nearly complete failure to prepare students for college entrance exams by no longer using the SAT to assess student achievement.

I actually hope this is a joke, though there’s no indication in the story to suggest the reporter is being satirical.

So we have bureaucrats getting vastly overpaid in exchange for not educating kids.

Now let’s travel to the west coast, where Los Angeles schools also have overpaid officials who do a crummy job of educating students, but they have figured out very novel ways of squandering tax dollars.

As Robby Soave reports in Reason, the LA school district first tried a failed scheme to give every student an iPad, which led to predictable fraud and misuse with no accompanying educational benefit. Now they want to double down on failure with a new proposal that gives various schools the option of which bit of high-tech gadgetry to mis-utilize.

Who could be against choice? That’s the argument Los Angeles school district administrators are now employing to push their latest round of expensive technology upgrades. Schools will be given the choice to receive Chromebooks instead of iPads—and some schools will get laptops, the most expensive option of all.  …The idea is to eventually place such a device in the hands of every child in the district.

Needless to say, there’s no strategy for avoiding the mistakes that plagued the earlier scheme.

The problem administrators encountered when rolling out the iPad plan, however, was that kids kept losing or breaking the devices. What happens then? Do parents pay, or does the district? Do kids get a replacement? Teachers also struggled mightily to incorporate the technology into their lesson plans, and concerns about kids using iPads for unsanctioned purposes caused headaches. The initial iPad deal unravelled after allegations of an improper relationship between then District Superintendent John Deasy, Apple, and curriculum company Pearson.

The reporter is understandably skeptical about what will happen next.

I have little reason to believe that the individual schools will be more responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s money than the district was. Indeed, 21 schools decided to go with an even more expensive option: laptops. Steve Lopez of the LA Times argued persuasively in October that the iPad fiasco was a costly diversion from the district’s real problems. Schools can’t even find the money for math textbooks, but administrators want to force unneeded technology on them and impose computerized tests. The district should prioritize basic instruction before deciding to purchase thousands of fancy gadgets.

Gee, it’s almost enough to make you think that government schools don’t work very well and that we should instead allow parents to have real choice over how to best educate their children.

P.S. You won’t be surprised to learn that Obama’s silly common core proposal appears to be driving some of these bad results.

P.P.S. Though remember that Bush’s no-bureaucrat-left-behind scheme was also a flop.

P.P.P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChile, and the Netherlands shows good results after breaking up state-run education monopolies.

And there’s growing evidence that it also works in the limited cases where it exists in the United States.

P.P.P.P.S. Or we can just stick with the status quo, which involves spending more money, per student, than any other nation while getting dismal results.

P.P.P.P.P.S. This is a depressing post, so let’s close with a bit of humor showing the evolution of math lessons in government schools.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. If you want some unintentional humor, the New York Times thinks that education spending has been reduced.

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Much of my writing is focused on the real-world impact of government policy, and this is why I repeatedly look at the relative economic performance of big government jurisdictions and small government jurisdictions.

But I don’t just highlight differences between nations. Yes, it’s educational to look at North Korea vs. South Korea or Chile vs. Venezuela vs. Argentina, but I also think you can learn a lot by looking at what’s happening with different states in America.

So we’ve looked at high-tax states that are languishing, such as California and Illinois, and compared them to zero-income-tax states such as Texas.

With this in mind, you can understand that I was intrigued to see that even the establishment media is noticing that Texas is out-pacing the rest of the nation.

Here are some excerpts from a report by CNN Money on rapid population growth in Texas.

More Americans moved to Texas in recent years than any other state: A net gain of more than 387,000 in the latest Census for 2013. …Five Texas cities — Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth — were among the top 20 fastest growing large metro areas. Some smaller Texas metro areas grew even faster. In oil-rich Odessa, the population grew 3.3% and nearby Midland recorded a 3% gain.

But why is the population growing?

Well, CNN Money points out that low housing prices and jobs are big reasons.

And on the issue of housing, the article does acknowledge the role of “easy regulations” that enable new home construction.

But on the topic of jobs, the piece contains some good data on employment growth, but no mention of policy.

Jobs is the No. 1 reason for population moves, with affordable housing a close second. …Jobs are plentiful in Austin, where the unemployment rate is just 4.6%. Moody’s Analytics projects job growth to average 4% a year through 2015. Just as important, many jobs there are well paid: The median income of more than $75,000 is nearly 20% higher than the national median.

That’s it. Read the entire article if you don’t believe me, but the reporter was able to write a complete article about the booming economy in Texas without mentioning – not even once – that there’s no state income tax.

But that wasn’t the only omission.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is the 4th-best state in the Tax Foundation’s ranking of state and local tax burdens.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was the least oppressive state in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Soft Tyranny Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #20 in a study of the overall fiscal condition of the 50 states.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 4th place in a combined ranking of economic freedom in U.S. state and Canadian provinces.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas was ranked #11 in the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

The article doesn’t mention that Texas is in 14th place in the Mercatus ranking of overall freedom for the 50 states (and in 10th place for fiscal freedom).

By the way, I’m not trying to argue that Texas is the best state.

Indeed, it only got the top ranking in one of the measures cited above.

My point, instead, is simply to note that it takes willful blindness to write about the strong population growth and job performance of Texas without making at least a passing reference to the fact that it is a low-tax, pro-market state.

At least compared to other states. And especially compared to the high-tax states that are stagnating.

Such as California, as illustrated by this data and this data, as well as this Lisa Benson cartoon.

Such as Illinois, as illustrated by this data and this Eric Allie cartoon.

And I can’t resist adding this Steve Breen cartoon, if for no other reason that it reminds me of another one of his cartoons that I shared last year.

Speaking of humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon speculates on how future archaeologists will view California. And this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote is among my most-viewed blog posts.

All jokes aside, I want to reiterate what I wrote above. Texas is far from perfect. There’s too much government in the Lone Star state. It’s only a success story when compared to California.

P.S. Paul Krugman has tried to defend California, which has made him an easy target. I debunked him earlier this year, and I also linked to a superb Kevin Williamson takedown of Krugman at the bottom of this post.

P.P.S. Once again, I repeat the two-part challenge I’ve issued to the left. I’ll be happy if any statists can successfully respond to just one of the two questions I posed.

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I’ve had some fun over the years by pointing out that Paul Krugman has butchered numbers when writing about fiscal policy in nations such as France, Estonia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that he wants to catch me making an error. But I’m not sure his “gotcha” moment is very persuasive. Here’s some of what he wrote for today’s New York Times.

Gov. Jerry Brown was able to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage. California also moved enthusiastically to implement Obamacare. …Needless to say, conservatives predicted doom. …Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.”

Kudos to Krugman for having read Atlas Shrugged, or for at least knowing that Rand sometimes referred to to “looters and moochers.” Though I have to subtract points because he thinks I’m a conservative rather than a libertarian.

But what about his characterization of my position? Well, he’s right, though I’m predicting slow-motion suicide. Voting for a tax hike isn’t akin to jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. Instead, by further penalizing success and expanding the burden of government, California is engaging in the economic equivalent of smoking four packs of cigarettes every day instead of three and one-half packs.

Here’s some of what I wrote.

I’m generally reluctant to make predictions, but I feel safe in stating that this measure is going to accelerate California’s economic decline. Some successful taxpayers are going to tunnel under the proverbial Berlin Wall and escape to states with better (or less worse) fiscal policy. And that will mean fewer jobs and lower wages than otherwise would be the case.

Anyhow, Krugman wants readers to think that California is a success rather than a failure because the state now has a budget surplus and there’s been an uptick in job creation.

Here’s more of what he wrote.

There is, I’m sorry to say, no sign of the promised catastrophe. If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels. …And, yes, the budget is back in surplus. …So what do we learn from the California comeback? Mainly, that you should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt. Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need.

I’m not persuaded, and I definitely don’t think this counts as a “gotcha” moment.

First, I’m a bit surprised that he wants to brag about California’s employment numbers. The Golden State has one of the highest joblessness rates in the nation. Indeed, only four states rank below California.

Second, I don’t particularly care whether the state has a budget surplus. I care about the size of government.

Krugman might respond by saying that the tax hike generated revenues, thus disproving the Laffer Curve, which is something that does matter to supporters of small government.

But the Laffer Curve doesn’t say that all tax hikes lose revenue. Instead, it says that tax rate increases will have a negative impact on taxable income. It’s then an empirical question to figure out if revenues go up a lot, go up a little, stay flat, or decline.

And what matters most of all is the long-run impact. You can rape and pillage upper-income taxpayers in the short run, particularly if a tax hike is retroactive. In the long run, though, people can move, re-organize their finances, and take other steps to reduce their exposure to the greed of the political class.

In other words, people can vote with their feet…and with their money.

And that’s what seems to be happening in California. Take a look at how much income has emigrated from the state since 1992.

Next we have a map showing which states, over time, are gaining taxable income and which states are losing income (and I invite you to look at how zero-income tax states tend to be very green).

The data isn’t population adjusted, so populous states are over-represented, but you’ll still see that California is losing while Texas is winning.

And here is similar data from the Tax Foundation.

So what’s all of this mean?

Well, it means I’m standing by my prediction of slow-motion economic suicide. The state is going to become the France of America…at least if Illinois doesn’t get there first.

California has some natural advantages that make it very desirable. And I suspect that the state’s politicians could get away with above-average taxes simply because certain people will pay some sort of premium to enjoy the climate and geography.

But the number of people willing to pay will shrink as the premium rises.

In other words, this Chuck Asay cartoon may be the most accurate depiction of California’s future. And this Lisa Benson cartoon shows what will happen between now and then.

But I won’t hold my breath waiting for a mea culpa from Krugman.

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When people in other nations ask me for evidence in favor of low taxes, I often will ask them to compare the economic performance of a high-tax nation like France with the performance of a nation such as Switzerland with less onerous taxes.

If I’m asked by Americans, I generally suggest that they compare different states. For instance, I show them evidence that California has a much more punitive tax system than Texas. And when you look at all the available state rankings, it’s clear that there’s a big difference.

*Tax burdens as a share of state income.

*The State Tyranny Index.

*Mercatus State Fiscal Ranking.

*State Business Tax Climate Index.

*Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day.

*State Freedom Index.

*Death Spiral states.

And I then ask folks to compare economic performance. There’s lots of evidence that Texas is growing much faster and creating far more jobs than California.

Heck, it’s almost as if California politicians want to drive successful people out of the Golden State (fortunately, the state’s politicians didn’t read Walter Williams’ satirical column about putting a barbed-wire fence at the border). And when upper-income taxpayers leave the state, that means taxable income and tax revenue also escape.

Though it’s worth pointing out that the case for low taxes isn’t based solely on comparisons of Texas and California. We know, for instance, that states with no income taxes generally outperform other states.

Moreover, we don’t need to rely on casual empiricism. Here are some of the results from a new study published by the Mercatus Center.

…this study uses the average tax rate as a practical approximation of the overall state tax burden. …The coefficient of average tax rate is negative and statistically significant in both models, suggesting that a higher tax burden as a share of income reduces state economic growth. …Elasticity of −2.6, for example, implies that a 1 percent increase in the tax rate decreases economic growth by 2.6 percent, not percentage points. …While the aforementioned income growth results are insightful, the impact of taxation on the level of income is also important. …income tax progressivity has a significant negative relationship with real GSP per capita. …An alternative way to measure economic activity is to look at the number of private firms that operate in each state. …The main conclusion from the two regression models is that only personal income tax progressivity seems to have a significant negative effect on the growth in the number of firms. … By voting with their feet, people send a clear signal about where they prefer to live and work. …an empirical analysis of migration may show, indirectly, how taxes affect the flow of economic activity across states. …state net immigration rate is negatively related to the personal income tax rate … The net immigration rate also seems to have a significantly negative correlation with the average tax rate and income tax progressivity.

These findings should not be a surprise.

It’s common sense that economic activity – and taxpayers – will flow to states that don’t punish people for creating wealth.

Let’s now circle back to the Texas-vs-California comparisons. Take a look at this remarkable chart put together by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute.

As you can see, total employment in Texas has jumped almost 10 percent since 2008. In California, by contrast, total employment has increased by less than 2/10ths of 1 percent.

So you can see why this Lisa Benson cartoon is so appropriate.

Speaking of humor, this Chuck Asay cartoon speculates on how future archaeologists will view California. And this joke about Texas, California, and a coyote is among my most-viewed blog posts.

All jokes aside, none of this should be interpreted to suggest that Texas is perfect. There’s too much government in the Lone Star state. It’s only a success story when compared to California.

And even though California does worse than Texas in my Moocher Index, it’s worth pointing out that Californians are the least likely of all Americans to sign up for food stamps.

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It’s time to extinguish any lingering Christmas cheer. Today’s topic is over-bearing and tyrannical tax administration.

To be more specific, we’re going to look at the extent to which taxpayers are mistreated during the process of collecting revenue.

Yes, the amount that governments steal from you also is important, but that’s a topic we’ve already discussed on many occasions.

Moreover, we’re not going to focus on the IRS. Yes, the internal revenue service is infamous for its brutal and intrusive tactics. And I’m embarrassed to note that the United States scored very poorly in a Tax Oppression Index prepared by Switzerland’s Institut Constant.

But I want to focus today on places other than Washington. And the good news (at least relatively speaking) is that some countries scored even lower than the United States. The very worst nation was Italy, and you probably won’t be surprised that Germany (the country that figured out a way to use parking meters to tax prostitutes) and France were among the jurisdictions that also ranked below America.

This story from Brittany provides a rather appropriate glimpse at what it’s like to be a taxpayer in France.

For customers at the Mamm-Kounifl concert-café in Locmiquélic, carrying drinks trays and used glasses back to the bar was a polite tradition. But for social security agency URSAFF, it was also an infringement of labour laws because customers were acting like waiters, French local newspaper Le Télégramme reported.

But what’s really amazing is the way in which France’s revenue-hungry bureaucrats “caught” the alleged scofflaws.

“Around half-past midnight, a customer returned a drinks tray. She passed by the bar to go to the toilets. That was when it all kicked off.   My husband was pinned against the glass by a man. A woman leapt on me, showing her ID card and that’s when I realised it was a URSSAF check. They told me I had been caught using undeclared labour,” owner Markya Le Floch told Le Télégramme. …The authorities initially fined the pub owners €7,900 and briefly placed them in police custody. …URSSAF are still pursuing a social case and are now seeking €9,000 due to non-payment of the original fine.

Wow. This may be even more Orwellian than the FDA raid against the Amish farm that was selling unpasteurized milk to consenting adults. Or more absurd than the DEA busting a grandmother for buying cold medicine.

Imagine if the IRS adopted this French policy. If you take your significant other on a fancy date to McDonald’s and then carry your trash to the garbage receptacles, you’ll be guilty of providing “undeclared labor” and the tax police can then decide to impose taxes and fines because there could have been a taxable employee fulfilling that role.

I’m not joking. That seems to be the premise of the case in France.

Let’s now look at how taxpayers are treated by the various states here in America. Using data from the Council on State Taxation, the Tax Foundation has put together a map with grades for each state based on “good government” principles of tax administration.

Tax Administration Map of States

I’m surprised that Maine and Ohio rank so highly, particularly since neither state gets very good grades based on either Tax Freedom Day, aggregate tax burden, or the State Business Tax Climate.

But I’m not surprised that California ranks at the bottom. The state routinely gets bad grades on various measures of fiscal policy. No wonder so much income is moving out of the state. As for Louisiana, I can understand why Governor Jindal is so anxious to get rid of the state income tax.

Though the absence of a state income tax doesn’t guarantee good tax administration. Nevada, for instance, gets a poor grade in the COST survey.

P.S. If you like cartoons mocking California’s tax-and-spend politicians, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. I’ve only shared one French-related cartoon, but you can seem my attempts at humorous captions here, here, and here.

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I feel sorry for the people of California.  They’re in a state that faces a very bleak future.

And why does the Golden State have a not-so-golden outlook?

Because interest groups have effective control of state and local political systems and they use their power to engage in massive rip-offs of taxpayers. One of the main problems is that there’s a bloated government workforce that gets wildly overcompensated. Here are some staggering examples.

A state nurse getting $331,000 of annual compensation.

A county administrator getting $423,000 pensions.

A state psychiatrist getting $822,000 of annual compensation.

Cops that get $188,000 of annual compensation.

A city manager getting $800,000 of annual compensation.

But overpaid bureaucrats are not the only problem. California politicians are experts at wasting money in other ways, such as the supposedly high-speed rail boondoggle that was supposed to cost $33 billion and now has a price tag of $100 billion.

You may be thinking that I’ve merely provided a handful of anecdotes, so let’s recycle some numbers that I first shared back in 2010.

California state spending has outgrown the state’s tax base by 1.3 percentage points annually for 25 years. Simple arithmetic dictates that in lieu of constant tax increases, this perpetuates a deficit. From 1985 to 2009 state GDP in California grew by 5.5 percent per year, on average (not adjusted for inflation). Annual growth in state spending was 6.8 percent, on average.

In other words, California politicians have routinely violated my Golden Rule for good fiscal policy. And when government grows faster than the productive sector of the economy for an extended period of time, bad things are going to happen.

And those bad things can happen even faster when upper-income taxpayers can leave the state.

Walter Williams sarcastically suggested last year that California barricade the state to prevent emigration, reminiscent of the actions of totalitarian regimes such as East Germany.

But since state politicians fortunately don’t have that power, successful taxpayers can escape, and hundred of thousands of them have “voted with their feet” to flee to states such as Texas.

One recent example is NBA superstar, Dwight Howard, who left the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets. There are probably several reasons that he decided to make the switch, but the Wall Street Journal opines on a very big reason why he’ll be happier in Texas. The WSJ starts by looking at Mr. Howard’s two options.

NBA labor agreement…allows the Lakers to offer Mr. Howard $117 million over five years, compared to a maximum of $88 million over four years in Houston.

That looks about even when you look at annual pay, with the Lakers offering $23.4 million per year and the Rockets offering $22 million per year, but there’s another very important factor.

…this picture looks a lot different once the tax man cometh: “Howard would pay nearly $12 million in California tax over the four years if he signs with the Lakers, but only $600,000 in state tax should he sign with Houston. This means that a four-year deal with Houston would actually yield an additional $8 million in after-tax income.” California has the highest top rate for personal income in the nation, while Texas has no state income tax.

Some of you may be thinking this is no big deal. After all, the Lakers will sign somebody to take Dwight Howard’s place and that person will also get a huge salary.

That’s true, though Lakers fans probably aren’t happy that they’re destined to be a middle-of-the-pack team. The bigger point, though, is that there are tens of thousands of other high-paid people who can leave the state and there’s no automatic replacement. And many of them already have escaped.

Including very well-paid Chevron workers.

Ramirez California Promised LandNow that California’s moochers and looters have imposed an even higher top tax rate of 13.3 percent, expect that exodus to continue. Other pro athletes are looking to escape, and even famous leftists are thinking about fleeing.

In other words, Governor Jerry Brown can impose high tax rates, but he can’t force people to earn income in California. I don’t know whether to call this “the revenge of the Laffer Curve” or “a real life example of Atlas Shrugs,” but I know that California will be a very bleak place in 20 years.

P.S. Here’s the famous joke about California, Texas, and a coyote. And here’s an amusing picture of the California bureaucracy in (in)action.

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I’ve shared some outrageous stories about bureaucrats ripping off taxpayers.

So perhaps it is time to create a Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award to honor the parasite who best exemplifies the unofficial SEIU motto of “Better Living on the Taxpayer Teat.”

And I think we already have a very strong candidate for 2013. Ms. Dorothy Dugger certainly has the right skills, working the system to get 19 months of vacation time after being forced out of her position. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Washington Times.

A former official of the Bay Area Rapid Transit raked in more than $333,000 last year without working a single day after she resigned under pressure in May 2011. Dorothy Dugger, the BART’s former general manager, quietly stayed on the payroll, burning off nearly 80 weeks of unused vacation time, drawing paychecks and full benefits for more than 19 months after she agreed to quit more than two years ago, San Jose Mercury News reported.

But that’s only part of the story. Yes, she was grossly overpaid and, yes, she has been bilking the grotesquely lavish fringe benefits system reserved for the bureaucracy.

But she also got a big fat severance package! Sort of a reward she received because she was an incompetent employee who wasn’t properly fired by an incompetent government.

But no worries. Taxpayers are there to smooth everything over.

The months of extra pay were in addition to the $920,000 Ms. Dugger was paid to leave after the BART’s board botched an effort to fire her by violating public meetings laws, San Jose Mercury News reported.

You’ll be happy to know, however, that Ms. Dugger is willing to acknowledge that some people may not be happy about

When asked by the paper if she thought the payout was fair to BART riders, she said: “That’s a fair issue to debate.”

How generous of her to say this is a “fair issue” now that she’s already pocketed all her loot and left “government service.”

But don’t forget that there are millions of other bureaucrats still on the payroll, earning more than us while working less than us.

And while Ms. Dugger has some impressive credentials for the Bureaucrat-of-the-Year Award, she does face some stiff competition. John Geary, for instance, used his job as a welfare bureaucrat to perpetrate a welfare-for-sex scam. And Susan Muranishi managed to snag a guaranteed yearly payment of $423,664 for the rest of her life.

We pay, they play.

P.S. Let’s be thankful we’re not Denmark.

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