Just about everybody I know, especially Republicans, is planning an exit strategy from California. A Los Angeles County firefighter I met at a party said all those guys, too, are planning to leave, despite their high salaries and pensions. Many grousers no doubt will stay, in particular those whose children remain. But the calamities hitting this state just keep reminding the inmates it’s time to head for the prison gates while they are still open.
Last November’s ballot-box wipeout of California Republicans was followed by one of the worst fires in the state’s history, which burned down an entire city, inaptly named Paradise. Then-Governor Jerry Brown, finally exiting after 16 years in office spread over five decades, vaguely blamed the fires on “climate change” rather than addressing his own refusal to push such reasonable measures as clearing brush and burying power lines, which can snap in high winds, in fire-prone areas.
Although he left the Golden State boasting of a $21.5 billion surplus, the reality is the state suffers an estimated $1 trillion in unfunded state and local liabilities for the pensions and medical insurance of government employees. The new governor, Gavin Newsom, is promising to remain “frugal,” but even a blip downward in the national economy will send the budget careening into a massive deficit.
The new state budget he signed for fiscal year 2019-20, which began on July 1, amounted to a massive $215 billion. That figure has increased 60 percent in just seven years. It included yet another $2 billion in tax increases.
Never mind that in 2017 Brown and the Democratic legislature had already imposed $5.5 billion in higher taxes on gasoline and diesel, amounting to a 12-cent-per-gallon increase, to repair the state’s decayed roads. Half that money is being diverted to mass transit, even though ridership is down 15 percent in recent years. And in May, The Los Angeles Times reported, “some cities have raised the ire of drivers by spending millions of the new dollars on ‘road diet’ projects that reduce the number and size of lanes for motor vehicles.” Only in California!
The travel group TRIP ranks California’s roads as the worst in the U.S., at Third World levels. For this achievement, we can thank the poorly managed California Department of Transportation and the state diverting gas-tax revenue from roads to the general fund during recessions. A gas tax repeal on the 2018 ballot failed because the title and summary were distorted by far-left Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who apparently found time to sabotage the legislation during breaks from filing 51 lawsuits against President Trump. Ironically, it’s the economic boom occurring under Trump that’s allowing California to keep its precarious fiscal house of cards from collapsing.
When you first drive into California from the East, the potholes you’ll need to avoid in Death Valley’s 120-degree heat are a pleasant excursion compared with what awaits you in Orange County. Just 20 years ago, median housing prices were about $150,000, but today they have risen to more than $700,000. That means a family needs at least $150,000 in income just to afford a shotgun shack on a concrete slab. There’s no longer time for the classic California celebration of grilling steak in the backyard in beautiful weather, given that you and your spouse (assuming you’re one of the decreasing number of California couples who bother to marry) are working two jobs each.
If you have kids, hope you’re fortunate enough to be near one of the exceptional charter schools, which of course are currently under attack from the Democratic legislature. If not, you’ll need at least another $20,000 in income each to pay for tuition in private or parochial schools to avoid the wretched “public” schools, which are more like public cesspools. Academic test scores are so low the recent Los Angeles Unified School District teachers’ strike likely benefited students simply by keeping them home or on the streets—anywhere but the classrooms.
The heavily progressive state income tax digs in at 13.3 percent for the top rate, the highest in the nation. But what’s really confiscatory is the 9.3 percent tax rate that gouges taxpayers beginning at about $55,000 of income. That means the lower middle-class must pay a rate higher than the top rate in all but three other states.
Worst of all, even if you can afford to live here, your kids probably won’t be able to, and will depart for other states, beckoning you to follow if you want to see your grandkids.
Symbolic of the changes sweeping the state, in the November election Republicans lost all seven U.S. House seats from formerly GOP-dominated Orange County, where I reside. The reasons are plentiful, including:
a) For 25 years, more Republicans have left the state than Democrats;
b) About 80 percent of immigrants vote Democratic;
c) Campaign cash rushed in at the end to give Democratic Party candidates a funding advantage of as much as 10-to-1. The cash came from Silicon Valley billionaire oligarchs as well as the Rotten Apple’s ex-mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Some analysts blamed President Trump; but even those Republican candidates who criticized him, such as House candidate Young Kim, lost.
A recent survey by Edelman Intelligence found 53 percent of Californians want to leave. For millennials, it’s 63 percent. Unable to afford housing, they want to leave Mom and Pop and strike out on their own, or are sick of living like cordwood piled up in group houses.
Formerly a paradise to Davenporters who headed to “Iowa Beach” (Long Beach), Okies who drove across the mountains to Bakersfield, Michiganders like yours truly, and millions from all 50 states, it’s no longer “Californy is the place you ought to be,” but the place you ought to leave.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau on state-to-state migration flows, in 2017 there were about 130,000 fewer U.S. residents who migrated to California than those who left it for other states. The most popular destination was Texas, with 63,174 arriving in the Lone Star State from the Golden State, compared to 40,999 headed the other direction. It’s a reversal of the Dust Bowl migration of the late 1930s, as dramatized in The Grapes of Wrath.
Then there are the filthy cities. A recent Deutsche Bank report found San Francisco enjoyed the highest average salaries in the world. Construction is everywhere. Yet the real estate site Trulia calculated the median home price stretches above $1.63 million for a small house. Unless you’re a billionaire riding a helicopter to and from work, you have to prance around the feces and discarded hypodermic needles strewn around the streets.
Los Angeles might even be worse, suffering a gigantic infestation of rats living among the homeless, bringing with them shocking outbreaks of typhus. Yet as I write, the California State Legislature is considering banning coagulant rodenticides because traces have been found in mountain lions that feed off the vermin. One such piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 1788 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, Democrat of West Los Angeles, passed in the Assembly and two committees in the state Senate.
Dr. Drew Pinsky, a practicing psychiatrist working for decades in public health, warned on his radio show of potential outbreaks of bubonic plague. That’s the Black Death, which killed from one third to half of the population of Europe from 1346-53. In a July 26 report on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Dr. Mark Siegel warned that 1.5 percent of L.A. rats have the plague, and if that rises to 2 percent, the jump to humans is likely.
Although not as bad as in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Orange County still has a large homeless population. In my drive to and from work, I see them every one or two blocks, huddled in bushes with their backpacks. Although the high housing prices are part of the problem, Dr. Drew rightly says the real cause has been the misguided “reform” of mental health laws since the 1960s, which made it too difficult to commit the worst mentally ill people to hospitals to get treatment.
Reforming the reform is maddeningly difficult. But state Sen. John Moorlach, Republican of Costa Mesa, for whom I serve as press secretary, has worked with Dr. Drew to do just that. Senate Bill 640 would redefine “gravely disabled” in state law to include those who cannot take care of themselves. It will be reconsidered in 2020 after a study is undertaken of the potential cost to hospitals. Perhaps by then an outbreak of the plague will have concentrated people’s attention on this grave crisis.
Certainly, California maintains some positive elements. If you’re a hotshot young computer programmer with a 160 IQ, you can head to Silicon Valley and San Francisco and put up with the inconveniences. At least until the Bentley arrives to take you to your mansion, so you can count your billions. The weather remains almost suffocatingly beautiful, with the “climate change” hobgoblin of the state’s Democrats still decades away from drowning the coasts. But for most of us, to quote California’s most famous philosopher, Groucho Marx, it’s, “Hello, I must be going!”