Can California Be Fixed?

Victor Davis Hanson
Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Crossposted on National Review Online

Recently, I was driving down pot-holed, two-lane, non-freeway 101 near Monterey (unchanged since the 1960s) when the radio blared that on a recent science test administered to public schools, California scored 47th in the nation. As I looked at the congested traffic on the decrepit highway and digested the idea that our public schools are competitive only with Mississippi and Alabama, I wondered — is that what we get for a more than 10 percent income tax, 10 percent state and local sales taxes, and the highest gas taxes in the nation?

To sum up why California has yet another deficit — this time a $16 billion whopper — is pretty easy: The number of demonized one-percenters who pay over 10 percent in their salary to the state has been shrinking, as thousands flee with their ideas, energy, business, and capital to nearby no-tax states, and others make less money due to more and more costs and regulations — while the number of those receiving all sorts of state housing, food, medical, education, and legal support is soaring. (In crude parlance, California increasingly is seen by some as a very bad deal, in terms of the sort of schools, safety, transportation, and housing per taxes paid in comparison to Reno, Tahoe, or Austin, but by far more people as a very good deal in comparison to the costs versus benefits in, for example, Oaxaca or El Salvador.)

In the last two decades, the number added to the prison rolls (ca. 115,000) was not that much smaller than the number of new tax-filers (150,000). And of the last 10 million added to the state’s population, 7 million are on Medicaid.

But California being California, such reductionist thinking is taboo, and we are not allowed to make any suggestion that there is a connection between fleeing entrepreneurs, massive and illegal influxes of undocumented foreign nationals in recent years, and record public salaries and unfunded pensions.

So that said, are there any out-of-the-box things California might do to save or make a few billion dollars, other than the obvious measures of slashing spending and dismantling burdensome regulations?

1) Slap a user tax on the some $10–15 billion that is estimated to leave the state in remittances to foreign countries, or at least through executive action make foreign cash remittances grounds for disqualification from state public assistance.

2) Cancel high speed-rail asap.

3) Open up immediately the estimated now off-limits 35 billion barrels of oil off the central California coast, the vast majority of which can be safely and cleanly exploited by on-shore horizontal drilling.

4) Cap the amount one can receive from a California public pension, or multiple pensions at $100,000.

5) Eliminate three-quarters of the thousands of public California board members, who stymie commerce and are mostly costly and unproductive term-limited insider politicians.

6) Mandate one official language for state publications and office business.

7) Cut by 75 percent the number of administrators at the UC and CSU systems (their numbers from 1993 have grown by 212 percent), and pay them at the commensurate twelve-month faculty rate.

8) Clamp down on the vast underground and untaxed cash economy that has exploded to the point that one can buy tax-free almost anything needed, from a new lawn mower to a four-course meal, at roadside emporia and canteens.

9) Deport the 20,000 plus illegal-alien felons now in California state prisons to their countries of origin.

10) Have George Clooney do another $40,000 per head Hollywood fundraiser, but with Sacramento, not Barack Obama, as the beneficiary.

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