What a crazy place to live. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and periodically thought about leaving California. I never quite made it and obviously, given my age, I’m not likely to do so at this point in my life.
However, from my perspective, things in California don’t look good, on many levels: from the population growth to the economy to the political situation to the inexorable descent into fiscal insolvency, which should now be painfully obvious to anyone who cares to look.
Here are some of the things I see:
» Over-the-top environmentalism: Unreasonable “protection” of habitat for a variety of lizards, mice and the like, even weeds, which essentially co-opt private property rights without any compensation, typify the attitudes and values of environmental types who are in abundance in California. They are generally anti-property rights and have little or no concern about the financial ruin their policies often cause innocent property owners who are just trying to make a living, such as farmers and ranchers.
» An out-of-control budget process: Is there anyone in California with even the most minimal knowledge or understanding of fiscal management who does not realize the state is broke? The Legislature finally managed to pass a budget almost 100 days after it was due, but it is largely smoke and mirrors. Writing in the Sept. 19 Sacramento Bee, Dan Walters noted, “We Californians, and those we elect to state office, still cannot agree on what it is we want from government and how much we’re willing to pay for it … Truly, the budget dilemma is merely symbolic of our larger civic dysfunction.”
» Unbridled spending: The inability of the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to manage the budget without spending money we don’t have. I often wonder how many legislators actually understand that overspending is a sure road to bankruptcy. If they don’t, they are either stupid or so uninformed about economics and budgets that they simply don’t realize what happens when a state goes under.
» High taxes: California’s high tax rates, both individual and corporate, have already caused many businesses and high-income individuals to leave, yet the Legislature continues to look for ways to increase taxes. The higher they go, the more taxpayers leave. It’s a simple maxim that many legislators never seem to learn: people react and adapt to high taxes. They don’t just stand there and take it. They change their business strategies to minimize taxes or leave, if they can. In the past, I have encouraged some clients to move to Nevada because of California’s burdensome inheritance and income tax rates.
» One-sided political control: After the 2004 census, California’s political districts were gerrymandered to protect incumbents. The result has been to effectively limit competition, and we now have an insular Legislature that is largely interested only in how it can best personally benefit from being in office. Term limits have helped to some degree but, unfortunately, not enough to restore a healthy political balance.
» Unfriendly business climate: California’s excessive regulation drives up business costs, which induces many firms to leave the state. It’s no secret that other states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico among others — are actively courting California companies to relocate, offering inducements such as lower or no state income taxes and less regulation to attract them. Employment regulations, OSHA, EPA and environmental laws are but a few examples. I know a number of people who live in Santa Barbara County and have located their businesses in other states. They may live here, but they don’t base their firms in California.
» Uncontrolled immigration: Anyone who has lived here for any length of time is well aware of the nature of the problem and the arguments that are advanced to justify it. My sense is that marching in the streets on Cinco de Mayo, carrying the Mexican flag above an upside down American banner, antagonizes most Americans. At least the ones I know.
California is still a great place to live, but I do have my doubts about how much longer that will be the case. If I were younger, I would leave. What is likely to happen here is not going to be pretty. We are getting a preview of the consequences of uncontrolled spending in Vallejo, where the city has filed bankruptcy. Who will be next? Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, which are already overburdened by commitments to employee pension plans?
Don’t be fooled into thinking it can’t happen to the state of California.
Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.