WASHINGTON -- California's increasingly severe and largely self-inflicted economic crisis will deepen on May 19 if, as is probable and desirable, voters reject most of the ballot measures that were drafted as part of a "solution" to the state's budget deficit. They would make matters worse. National economic revival is being impeded because one-eighth of the nation's population lives in a state that is driving itself into permanent stagnation. California's perennial boast -- that it is the incubator of America's future -- now has an increasingly dark urgency.
Under Arnold Schwarzenegger, the best governor the states contiguous to California have ever had, people and businesses have been relocating in those states. For four consecutive years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in. California's business costs are more than 20 percent higher than the average state's. In the last decade, net out-migration of Americans has been 1.4 million. California is exporting talent while importing Mexico's poverty. The latter is not California's fault; the former is.
If, since 1990, state spending increases had been held to the inflation rate plus population growth, the state would have a$15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion budget deficit, which is larger than the budgets of all but 10 states. Since 1990, the number of state employees has increased by more than a third. In Schwarzenegger's less than six years as governor, per capita government spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased nearly 20 percent.
Liberal orthodoxy has made the state dependent on a volatile source of revenues -- high income tax rates on the wealthy. In 2006, the top 1 percent of earners paid 48 percent of the income taxes. California's income and sales taxes are among the nation's highest, its business conditions among the worst, as measured by 16 variables directly influenced by the Legislature. Unemployment, the nation's fourth highest, is 11.2 percent.
Required by law to balance the budget, the Legislature has "solved" the problem by, among other things, increasing the income, sales, gas and vehicle taxes. This, although one rationale for the federal government's gargantuan "stimulus" was to spare states the need to raise taxes which, in California, will more than vitiate the stimulus.
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