When trying to understand why Texas is a thriving economic superpower while California is a political basket case with 12 percent unemployment, one conclusion is inescapable: Political culture and governing philosophy matter.
California is paying increasingly more in wealth-transfer payments to those in government or those who benefit from government programs — government spending in California has increased more than 26 percent since 1998, with almost no public benefit to show for it.
Perhaps the starkest example of this is the unbridled arrogance of California’s politicians. On Dec. 7, the Los Angeles Times reported California Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo filed a lawsuit on behalf of all state legislators.
Cedillo claimed an 18 percent cut in pay and benefits imposed on California’s legislators by an independent commission was illegal. The pay cut, which went into effect last year, reduced legislators’ salaries from $116,208 to $95,291. No cuts were made to the lawmakers’ benefits, car allowances or the additional $30,000 in annual per diem payments.
Cedillo told the Sacramento Bee that the pay cuts would “put [legislators’] families in a difficult situation.” Meanwhile, 2.3 million Californians remain unemployed.
Compare that with Texas, where legislators are paid only $7,200 a year. And that is not the only drastic difference. Texas legislators are constitutionally forbidden to meet more than 140 days every two years. California has had a full-time Legislature since 1966.
Further, Texas legislators are under severe constraints, including ones that prohibit them from expanding their authority or doing anything not explicitly authorized by the state’s constitution, and changing the constitution requires voter consent.
The result means the only thing that is not bigger in Texas is the government. Despite being broadly comparable in population and demographics, Texas has only 158 state agencies to California’s 347.
Then, there are the hundreds of commissions that have a dramatic regulatory and economic impact on the Golden State. In 1999, the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology became a national punch line after a court struck down regulations requiring African hair-braiding businesses to undergo 1,600 hours of training and pay $5,000 in licensing fees to the bureaucracy.
Many of these commissions are plainly extraneous — a state-appointed Hearing Aid Dispensers Bureau? — and exist only to pay exorbitant salaries as “political payback for legislators that have been termed out so they can have a nice, soft landing,” Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland said. Every year since 1999, Strickland has proposed a bill to eliminate salaries in excess of $100,000 to people who serve on state commissions that hold two or fewer meetings a month.
It has not passed.
California spends more than 46 percent more per capita than Texas on its state and local government activity.
And what do Californians get for all that extra money? William Voegeli, a scholar at California’s Claremont McKenna College, observed that, according to the latest figures, California’s per capita spending on transportation infrastructure was 6 percent lower than that of Texas. And 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows Texas students performing significantly better than California kids, despite the latter spending 12 percent more on education.
“Government isn’t difficult in theory,” Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry told National Review magazine in 2009. “Don’t spend all the money, keep taxes low, have a fair and predictable regulatory climate, keep frivolous lawsuits to a minimum and fund an accountable education system so that you have a skilled work force available. Then get the hell out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does best.”
Perhaps Perry’s prescription is easier said than done. If California does not find a way to emulate Texas and reduce the size and corruption of its government, it faces certain ruin.
Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Washington Examiner.