California divides taxpayer money among its politicians

Part two of a five-part series

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 matters.

California vs. Texas: Comparing a bust state to a boom state Monday: Texas booms while California busts

Tuesday: Dividing taxpayer money among politicians
Wednesday: Texas adds jobs while California taxes them away
Thursday: California environmental regulations cause economic blackout
Friday: California unions stand in the way of a Texas-sized success

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 that California Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo filed a lawsuit on behalf of all state legislators.

Cedillo claims that a recent 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 legislature's benefits, car allowances or the additional $30,000 in annual per diem payments legislators receive.

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 to Texas, where legislators are paid only $7,200 a year. And that's 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 is that the only thing that isn't 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,” said Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland. 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 hasn't passed.

California spends over 46 percent more money per capita than Texas on all of this 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, observes that, according to the latest figures, California's per capita spending on transportation infrastructure was 6 percent lower than Texas. And 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows Texas students performing significantly better than they do in California, despite the latter spending 12 percent more on education.

“Government isn't difficult in theory,” Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry told National Review 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 doesn't 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 Examiner. He can be reached at

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