Cal­i­for­nia’s ren­dezvous with re­al­ity

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity. You can reach him by email­ing au­[email protected]­torhan­ BY VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

Cal­i­for­ni­ans brag that their state is the world’s fifth-largest econ­omy. They talk as rev­er­en­tially of Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies Ap­ple, Face­book and Google as the an­cient Greeks did of their Olympian gods.

Hol­ly­wood and uni­ver­si­ties such as Cal­tech, Stan­ford and Berke­ley are cited as per­ma­nent proof of the in­tel­lec­tual, aes­thetic and tech­no­log­i­cal dom­i­nance of West Coast cul­ture.

Cal­i­for­ni­ans also see their pro­gres­sive, oneparty state as a neo-so­cial­ist model for a na­tion mov­ing hard to the left.

But how long will they re­tain such con­fi­dence?

Cal­i­for­nia’s 40 mil­lion res­i­dents de­pend on less than 1 per­cent of the state’s tax­pay­ers to pay nearly half of the state in­come tax, which for Cal­i­for­nia’s high­est tier of earn­ers tops out at the na­tion’s high­est rate of 13.3 per­cent.

In other words, Cal­i­for­nia can­not af­ford to lose even a few thou­sand of its wealth­i­est in­di­vid­ual tax­pay­ers. But a new fed­eral tax law now caps de­duc­tions for state and lo­cal taxes at $10,000 – a rad­i­cal change that prom­ises to cost many hig­h­earn­ing tax­pay­ers tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

If even a few thou­sand of the state’s 1 per­cent flee to nearby no-tax states such as Ne­vada or Texas, Cal­i­for­nia could face a dev­as­tat­ing short­fall in an­nual in­come.

Dur­ing the 2011-16 Cal­i­for­nia drought, politi­cians and ex­perts claimed that global warm­ing had per­ma­nently al­tered the cli­mate, and that snow and rain would be­come in­creas­ingly rare in Cali- for­nia. As a re­sult, long­planned low-el­e­va­tion reser­voirs, de­signed to store wa­ter dur­ing ex­cep­tion­ally wet years, were con­sid­ered all but use­less and thus were never built.

Then, in 2016 and 2017, Cal­i­for­nia re­ceived record snow and rain­fall – and the wind­fall of mil­lions of acre-feet of runoff was mostly let out to sea. Noth­ing since has been learned.

Cal­i­for­nia has again been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rain and cold that could ap­proach sea­sonal records. The state has been soaked by some 18 tril­lion gal­lons of rain in Feb­ru­ary alone. With still no ef­fort to ex­pand Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter­stor­age ca­pac­ity, mil­lions of acre-feet of runoff are once again cas­cad­ing out to sea (and may be sorely missed next year).

The in­abil­ity to build reser­voirs is es­pe­cially tragic given that the state’s high-speed-rail project has gob­bled up more than $5 bil­lion in funds with­out a sin­gle foot of track laid. The to­tal cost soared from an orig­i­nal $40 bil­lion prom­ise to a pro­jected $ 77 bil­lion. To his credit, newly elected Gov. Gavin New­som, fear­ing a bud­get catas­tro­phe, can­celed the statewide project while al­low­ing a few miles of the quar­ter-built Cen­tral Val­ley “track to nowhere” to be fin­ished.

For years, high-speed rail has drained the state bud­get of trans­porta­tion funds that might have eas­ily up­dated night­mar­ish stretches of the Cen­tral Val­ley’s High­way 99, or en­sured that the nearby os­si­fied Am­trak line be­came a mod­ern two-track line.

Cal­i­for­nia politi­cians vie with each other to prove their open-bor­ders bona fides in an ef­fort to ap­peal to the es­ti­mated 27 per­cent of Cal­i­for­ni­ans who were not born in the United States.

But the health, ed­u­ca­tional and le­gal costs as­so­ci­ated with mas­sive il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion are squeez­ing the bud­get. About a third of the Cal­i­for­nia bud­get goes to the state’s Medi­care pro­gram, Medi-Cal. Half the state’s births are funded by Medi-Cal, and in nearly a third of those state-funded births, the mother is an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant.

Cal­i­for­nia is fac­ing a per­fect storm of home­less­ness. Its labyrinth of zon­ing and build­ing reg­u­la­tions dis­cour­ages low­cost hous­ing. Its gen­er­ous wel­fare ben­e­fits, non-en­force­ment of va­grancy and pub­lic health laws, and mod­er­ate cli­mate draw in the home­less. Nearly one-third of the na­tion’s wel­fare re­cip­i­ents live in the state, and nearly one in five live be­low the poverty line.

The re­sult is that tens of thou­sands of peo­ple live on the streets and side­walks of the state’s ma­jor cities, where primeval dis­eases such as ty­phus have reap­peared.

Cal­i­for­nia’s pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment seems clue­less how to deal with these is­sues, given that so­lu­tions such as low-cost hous­ing and strict en­force­ment of health codes are seen as ei­ther too ex­pen­sive or po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect.

In sum, Cal­i­for­nia has no mar­gin for er­ror.

Spi­ral­ing en­ti­tle­ments, un­wieldy pen­sion costs, money wasted on high­speed rail, in­ad­e­quate wa­ter stor­age and de­liv­ery, and lax im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies were for­merly tol­er­a­ble only be­cause about 150,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans paid huge but fed­er­ally de­ductible state in­come taxes.

No more. Cal­i­for­ni­ans may have once de­rided the state’s 1 per­cent as self­ish rich peo­ple. Now, they are pray­ing that these heav­ily bur­dened tax­pay­ers stay put and are will­ing to pay far more than what they had paid be­fore.

That is the only way Cal­i­for­nia can con­tinue to spend money on projects that have not led to safe roads, plen­ti­ful wa­ter, good schools and safe streets.

A Cal­i­for­nia reck­on­ing is on the hori­zon, and it may not be pretty.

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