Victor Davis Hanson

California now works on the principle of the mordida, or "bite." Its government assumes that it can take something extra from residents for the privilege of living in their special state.

Gov. Jerry Brown made that assumption explicit in his latest back-and-forth with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who keeps luring Californians to lower-tax, higher-employment Texas. Recently, Brown said of Texas, "Who would want to spend summers there in 110-degree heat inside some kind of fossil fuel air conditioner?"

Translated, Brown's retort meant that despite California's sluggish economy, high taxes and poor services, it's still worth staying there to enjoy its beautiful climate -- especially along the 1,000-mile-long coast, where most of the state's elites live comfortably without a need for high-priced air conditioning.

In November, California approved a measure to raise its sales tax and its income tax rates on the wealthy. According to the California Taxpayers Association, the state now has the highest sales tax and the highest top income tax rate in the nation. The state also just upped its gasoline taxes by nearly 10 percent to make them the costliest in the United States -- about 70 cents a gallon in combined federal, state and local taxes. The state already has among the most expensive refinery regulations in America. That means California pump prices, at well over $4 per gallon, are second only to Hawaii's.

Yet, unlike Hawaii, California's wells still produce more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil each day -- behind only Texas and Alaska. Its newly discovered Monterey Shale Formation may hold some 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. Perhaps no state has so much recoverable petroleum and yet such high fuel taxes and pump prices.

California's record taxes are not reflections of the costs incurred ensuring superior California public education. In fact, its public schools, in some surveys of national performance tests in math and English, rank near the nation's very bottom.

Nor do record gas taxes equate to wonderful freeways. The federal government concluded that only half of California's roads rate as acceptable. Private rankings put California's roads near dead last.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.