The Cycle Continues in California

Gov. Jerry Brown is now advocating a new 1–2 percent increase in the top income tax rates in California, which I think would put them at or over 12 percent. If it is true, as often reported, that 2,000–3,000 residents are leaving California per week, and that many of them are top earners, will the additional taxes entice them back, or do we simply wish them, and many of the jobs they create, good riddance? 

This year there were all sorts of sensational news stories in California — some state workers earning over $500,000, mandates for schools to teach gay history, extension of state scholarship eligibility to illegal aliens, the presence of thousands of sinecures on state boards (which Schwarzenegger failed miserably to curtail). Whether insignificant or not, they all had one thing in common: State government dreams up an idea that sounds progressive and then simply passes it, without commensurate worry about how it is to be paid for

In Brown’s case, even though he is to be congratulated that government has shrunk back to pre-2008 funding levels under his watch, he still seems to have little clue that when a state creates a climate of more and more regulation on productive companies from Silicon Valley to Napa, idles thousands of acres of rich farm land, turns down leases for new gas and oil exploration, curtails the timber and mining industries, raises taxes on those most likely to hire, and turns the entire question of the consequences of illegal immigration into a taboo subject, then less revenue will enter state coffers and we end up repeating this doomed cycle of raising taxes on those who will either leave or curtail production. 

And he seems to think that cutbacks in a vastly expanded government de facto represent real hardship rather than asking whether such huge 21st-century growth in government, entitlements, and compensation was ever necessary in the first place: pruning a vastly expanded state government of the last few years does not in and of itself translate into cruel slash-and-burn cutting. And at no point do we in California ask exactly why California has far lower test scores in its schools, far higher prison populations, and far worse infrastructure than states with far lower income tax rates — or whether the state has a safer, better educated, and more productive population than it did decades ago when tax rates were much lower. Californians are not heartless, but they are on to the con of a vast public administrative elite, compensated well above counterparts elsewhere, preaching that the poor, elderly, and sick alone will suffer if the greedy do not allow their taxes to be hiked.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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