At a PRI conference a few years ago, someone in the audience had a great question for our keynote speaker, a renowned economist: Given California’s bad economic policies, why do people still like the state? With typical flair and charm, not to mention political incorrectness (which is why I am withholding his name), he replied: “Well, when you’re a pretty girl, you don’t have to work so hard.”
I’ve just returned from a Thanksgiving get-away in Hawaii – a state that truly rivals California’s beauty. As Mark Twain wrote, Hawaii is “the loveliest fleet of islands that anchored in any ocean.”
But being beautiful isn’t the only thing the two states have in common. High taxes, overregulation, and an unresponsive government have made living in paradise as wearisome as living in the Golden State. For the most part, if you made a list of California’s problems, all you’ll need to do is scratch out “California” and insert “Hawaii” to come up with a list for Hawaii. Here are just a few:
- A large state bureaucracy supported by ever higher taxes. Hawaii’s public sector workers are among the highest paid in America. “When adjusted for the cost of living,” said Keli’i Akina, president of the independent think tank Grassroot Institute, “Hawaii’s average private sector workers make the lowest wages in the entire nation. But they are the individuals supporting the wages and benefits of Hawaii’s public employees, who are making among the highest wages in the nation.”
- A looming pension crisis that’s forcing Hawaii’s counties to reduce government services and tax residents further.
- Regulation and red tape that’s making it difficult to find good jobs. Take, for example, Hawaii’s onerous state occupational licensure laws. They promote unemployment and higher consumer prices, while doing little or mothing to guarantee consumer protection.
- Unaffordable housing due to zoning and land-use regulations that places most of the state off limits to development. The median home price of a house in Hawaii is close to seven times the median family income, based on a study by Randal O’Toole for the Grassroot Institute.
- High poverty – Hawaii ranked 2nd in overall poverty in 2016.
- Poor educational performance – Hawaii public school 8th graders ranked 35th in math and 46th in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card.
- A rail system under construction that’s been seizing private poverty along its route, is way over budget, and does little to solve freeway gridlock.
“Good schools, good jobs, good government,” said former Governor Linda Lingle, “These are not unreasonable demands. But sadly, some of our people have already lost heart and have left Hawaii to look for these things elsewhere.”
We can assume that the other pretty girl – California — will not likely be their destination.
Been there, done that.
Rowena Itchon is Senior Vice President of the Pacific Research Institute.