The Albany-Trenton-Sacramento Disease
How three liberal states got into deep trouble with ‘progressive’ ideas.
President Obama has bet the economy on his program to grow the government and finance it with a more progressive tax system. It’s hard to miss the irony that he’s pitching this change in Washington even as the same governance model is imploding in three of the largest American states where it has been dominant for years — California, New Jersey and New York.
A decade ago all three states were among America’s most prosperous. California was the unrivaled technology center of the globe. New York was its financial capital. New Jersey is the third wealthiest state in the nation after Connecticut and Massachusetts. All three are now suffering from devastating budget deficits as the bills for years of tax-and-spend governance come due.
These states have been models of “progressive” policies that are supposed to create wealth: high tax rates on the rich, lots of government “investments,” heavy unionization and a large government role in health care.
Here’s a rundown on the results:
Government spending as economic stimulus. State-local spending per capita is $12,505 in New York (second highest after Alaska), $10,136 per person in California (fourth) and $9,574 in New Jersey (seventh).
Has all this public sector “investment” translated into jobs? Not quite. California had the nation’s third highest jobless rate in May (11.5%). New Jersey and New York had below average unemployment rates in May compared to the national average of 9.4%, but one reason is that so many discouraged workers have left those states. From 1998-2007, which included two booms on Wall Street, New York and New Jersey ranked 36th and 31st in job creation. From 2000 to 2007, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association calculates that nine out of 10 new Garden State jobs were in the government.
Soak the rich. Mr. Obama plans to pay for his government investments through higher tax rates on the top 1% and 2% of taxpayers. Our troika of liberal states are champions at soaking the rich. The state-local income tax burden, according to the Tax Foundation, is the highest in the nation in New York, second highest in California and sixth in New Jersey. New York City boasts the highest business tax rate, 17.6%, according to a study by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Seven of the 10 highest property tax counties in America are located in New Jersey.
Instead of balanced budgets, these high taxes have produced record red ink. California’s deficit for 2010 is projected at $33.9 billion, New Jersey’s $7 billion and New York’s $17.9 billion, despite multiple tax increases this decade. The Manhattan Institute finds that three-quarters of the loss in revenues this year in Albany is a result of reduced income tax payments by rich people even though the state keeps raising taxes on high earners.
California’s debt burden has multiplied so fast that it now has the worst bond rating of any state, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators are pleading with Washington to command the other 49 states to pay off its IOUs. The interest rates on Golden State bonds have nearly tripled in the last two years.
Powerful unions. Mr. Obama believes union power is a ticket to the middle class. The middle class is getting creamed in all three of these “progressive” states, where organized labor is king. The unionized share of the workforce is 20% in California, 19% in New Jersey and 27% in New York compared to 13% across the country. All three are non-right-to-work states, have super-minimum wage requirements and provide among the nation’s most generous public-employee pensions.
Workers in these paradises are indeed uniting — by leaving. New York ranks first, California second and New Jersey third in moving vans leaving the state. A study by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research found that over the past decade these and other high-union states (mostly in the Northeast) had one-third the job growth of states with low union penetration.
Government health care. New York, New Jersey and California are among the leading states in government spending on and intervention into the medical market. A 2008 study by the Pacific Research Institute ranked the states on the basis of government regulation of health care and found that New York is most regulated, while New Jersey ranks sixth and California seventh. “New York,” the report declares, “suffers from government health programs that are out of control, a grossly overregulated private insurance market and almost completely uncompetitive provider markets.”
Have government controls and Medicaid expansions (“the public option”) lowered costs? Here is what the American Health Insurance Plans found. For family coverage annual premiums in 2006-07, the national median cost was roughly $5,300; in California it was $5,884, in New Jersey $10,398, and in New York $12,254. New York’s coverage mandates cause families to pay more than twice what they do in other states for insurance.
As a result, California and New York have more than one-third of their residents uninsured or in Medicaid — much higher than the national average of 25%. More government involvement in health care in California, New Jersey and New York has raised costs and often reduced private coverage. That’s hardly a model for the nation.
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So goes the real-life experience of progressive governance, with heavy tax burdens financing huge welfare states, and state capitals dominated by public-employee unions. Formerly rich states, they are now known for job losses, booming deficits and debt, wage stagnation, out-migration and laughing-stock legislatures. At least Americans have the ability to flee these ill-governed states for places that still welcome wealth creators. The debate in Washington now is whether to spread this antigrowth model across the entire country.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A14