California’s Blueberry Hill: Quest for Spending Continues as Golden State Runs Out of Money
California’s wallet is empty, as Governor Schwarzenegger says, and the Golden State is staring down the barrel of a $26.3 billion deficit. That has not stopped legislative efforts to expand government, spending, and regulation.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, wants California to have a Blueberry Commission, with an operating budget of $1.2 million, funded by a surcharge on blueberries. The body would join many others on everything from cut flowers to avocados.
These supposedly help promote and market the various commodities but those who actually grow blueberries have not been panting for help from the state. Suzanne Hasenplug, a grower in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, told the Associated Press that “my blueberries promote themselves.”
The boards and commissions spend taxpayer funds for purposes such as lobbying, and some waste money in different ways. The California Integrated Waste Management Board, for example, is appropriately named. Appointees are paid more than legislators, $132,178 a year, for negligible work.
The board’s primary purpose is a dumping ground for over-the-hill politicians and sinecure seekers. A recent appointee is former state senator Sheila Kuehl, a promoter of government monopoly health care. In April two bills that would have eliminated this waste board got killed in committee.
Some lawmakers, and the governor, want to balance the budget through cuts. Others want to raise taxes. Public employee unions are one of the loudest voices in the tax-raising cause. The Service Employees International Union, a minority of state employees, and for whom the public does not vote, has launched a $1 million ad campaign urging tax hikes.
Various pundits have portrayed both approaches as misguided and even utopian, but this analysis is also misguided. The true utopians are those who believe that California’s financial woes can be fixed without economic growth. They can’t, and current policy is decidedly unfriendly to such growth.
California is a high-regulation state, which some legislators want to make even higher. Assemblywoman Ma, for example, has authored another bill stipulating that the lettering on medical name tags must be in 18-point font. California maintains a Coastal Commission that overrides every county and city government on the coastline. California is also one of highest taxed states.
California’s top personal income-tax rate is the second-highest in the country and our second-highest rate of personal income tax ranks fifth-highest in the nation. Our state sales tax is also one of the highest. In economic freedom, California ranks 47th out of 50 states, up from 49th in 2004.
In the ability to create jobs, California ranks 48th, ahead of only Michigan and Mississippi. Over the last five years, more than a million Californians left the state, the seventh-worst migration record of any state.
Assemblyman Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, told the Sacramento Bee that an all-cuts budget was “bad for the economy,” and that “you have to put a little revenue in there.” He is partly right. In current conditions, you have to put a lot of revenue in there.
Contrary to what some appear to believe, revenue does not grow on trees and Sacramento can’t print its own. Revenue comes from the state economy, which will be more productive with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and fewer state bodies of dubious utility to support.
Name-tag mandates and a new $1.2 million blueberry commission won’t help. But they do show how far some California legislators live from economic reality.