by Kenneth Thomas
Investor’s Business Daily has a hit piece out on California, as you can tell from the headline, “Taxifornia does it again.” Here’s the first paragraph of the editorial*, to give you a good flavor of it:
California’s far-left government has done it again. Not realizing its real problems are excessive spending on misplaced priorities, excessive taxes, too much debt and a far-too generous welfare state, its legislature working in cahoots with Gov. Jerry “tax-and-spend” Brown has pushed through the largest tax hike in state history.
Amazingly, the editorial does not mention regulations once, though it did get around to the “job-killing $15-an-hour minimum wage” recently passed, along with the proposal for a single-payer health insurance system. I guess that counts as massive self-restraint on the editors’ part.
The article calls California “the highest-tax state in the union.” If that’s so, it’s just another example of the false claim (popular also with Arthur Laffer and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council) that high taxes always mean bad policy outcomes. (FWIW, according to Forbes, California only has the sixth-highest state and local tax burden.)
So what have been the consequences of all of California’s tax increases? According to IBD, “Since 2004, California has lost more than 1 million people, representing a $26 billion net income loss.” Of course, no one has actually been lost. California’s population grew by almost exactly 4 million between 2004 and 2016, from 35.25 million to 39.25 million. What IBD’s editors are referring to is net interstate immigration and even there, the analysis is a little squirrely. From 2004 to 2008, the state had net interstate emigration of over 100,000 per year, with a low point of 288,000 net loss in 2006 (you know, during the housing disaster), but in every year since 2009, the number has been under 100,000 per year. Of course, interstate immigration is only one element of population change, and IBD conveniently omits the rest.
And the $26 billion alleged income loss due to interstate out-migration over that time period? A rounding error in an economy which grew from $1.8 trillion (2004) to $2.2 trillion (2015) annually in real 2009 dollars. I’m not even going to bother searching for their unlisted source.
The article further claims that because of taxes, over 10,000 firms, including Toyota, “have either fled the state or reduced their investments.” Of course, Toyota has been replaced in its Fremont factory by Tesla, the most valuable auto company in the United States by market capitalization (yes, I agree: it does need to make profits sometime to maintain this). Again, we need to look at the bigger picture. California hit its pre-recession peak employment in January 2008 at 16,949,800 (6.1% unemployment rate), went below 16 million employed and over 12% unemployment in the worst of the Great Recession, but in December 2016 reached 18,376,600 employed with just a 5.2% unemployment rate. So something more than offset all the companies that “fled,” I guess.
Of course, not everything is hunky-dory in California. As Woody Guthrie sang in 1940, “you won’t find it [California] so hot, if you ain’t got the do-re-mi.” It’s just as true today. California has persistent problems with a shortage of affordable housing, with studies rating it as having the highest housing costs in the country. But that means, contrary to the tax-doomsayers, that it is low-income people moving out and higher income people moving into the state, the opposite of what we’d expect if the anti-tax hype were true.
All in all, the editorial is Exhibit 538 in pressuring states to cut taxes, pretending you can provide infrastructure, education, and training without tax revenue, and that you can create prosperity by creating low-wage jobs.
* Thanks to a non-blogging friend for pointing out this editorial.