By Froma Harrop
Something about California sets conservative teeth on edge. In the Republican manual, liberal spending priorities married to an activist government cohabiting with a hedonistic culture can lead only to failure.
So when the Golden State conspicuously succeeds, California bashers find themselves at a loss. Until recently mired in deep budget deficits, California’s general fund is set to end next year in a surplus.
Surely deeper evil lies ready to bubble up, the bashers warn. To them, California resembles the phantom Rollo Tomasi from “L.A. Confidential” — the criminal “who gets away clean.”
It must especially pain conservatives that sunnier economic news partly results from voters directly rejecting Republican politicians and their agenda. A simplification here, but California’s famously dysfunctional politics have reflected Democrats’ desire to spend on certain public goals and Republican resistance to raising revenues needed to fund them.
So what did the voters do? Last November, they approved a temporary tax hike on themselves, expected to add $6 billion annually in revenues for the next seven years. And they handed Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature, enabling them to raise taxes without Republican support.
Cornered by good news, some conservatives need to lash out. For example, Steven Greenhut recently wrote in Reason magazine:
“It’s bad enough that other states have to deal with our residents, who are fleeing our success-punishing tax and regulatory regimen, but now, apparently, they are going to have to deal with our bad ideas, promoted through smug lectures from California’s liberal politicians.”
The “exodus out of California” is a common theme. “California factories once housed such industries as steel, automobile manufacturing, tire production and aerospace,” Charlotte Allen wrote on WeeklyStandard.com. “Those are now mostly gone or entirely gone.”
Right, and they’re no longer sewing sweatshirts in Manhattan or butchering cows in Chicago. They are doing other things, such as developing a technology powerhouse concentrated in Silicon Valley.
For bashers, California’s most prideful sin is public investing in the future. Made ‘em nuts when California passed a 2011 law requiring the state’s utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
“Why is (Gov.) Jerry Brown so eager to increase electricity rates when his state’s economy is in the dumps?” moaned a headline in National Review two years ago.
The article went on to note that people in Washington and Oregon pay 40 percent less for electricity — an odd conservative point to make given that two-thirds of the Northwest’s electricity comes from hydropower dams built through giant government programs.
Brown promoted the law as a way to fight global warming and also subsidize California-based innovators working on the problem. Conservatives now carp on California’s new cap-and-trade system for carbon, again predicting economic disaster.
Something about high-speed train projects pushes crazy buttons. Conservative George Will insists that upscale Californians “think trains are wonderful because they are not cars.” Guess he hasn’t considered the possibility that an advanced civilization might want both.
Brown won’t get much credit for all the conservative things he’s done. How many on the right have praised the very steep cuts in spending in recent years? The bashers will focus on planned restoration of funding for schools.
As projected surpluses smile on Sacramento, Brown is strongly and wisely urging fellow Democrats to show spending restraint. He’s even setting aside $1 billion for a rainy day fund.
If Californians want to tax and regulate themselves, that’s their business. Their high unemployment rate is creeping down, Standard &Poor’s may upgrade their state’s low credit rating, and they’ve built the world’s eighth-largest economy. Californians must be doing something right.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org