Opinion

The Great Debate

California v. Texas in fight for the future

It is not a national election year, but the “red state versus blue state” wars continue. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent foray into California, to lure away businesses and jobs, signals more than a rivalry between these two mega-states. The Texas-California competition represents the political, economic and cultural differences driving American politics today – and for the foreseeable future.

Texas and California are robust political and economic competitors. We don’t know which will be the template for the future. As California emerges from its economic and fiscal doldrums and some of Texas’ vulnerabilities become evident, it is now far from certain that Texas will emerge the victor.

California is a global hub for trade, tourism, culture and the manufacture of ideas and intellectual property. From high tech and biotech to entertainment, travel and logistics, the state’s brand transcends national boundaries. The Golden State tops the nation in agriculture. It also sets the pace on green energy development, which could lead to a dramatic increase in the state’s energy production.

The Texas economy has always been based on energy and agriculture. But the Lone Star State has been building a manufacturing and service base, attracting businesses with lower wage rates, weak unions, a friendly regulatory climate and large fiscal incentives. It remains to be seen whether it can maintain its economic momentum and overcome the inevitable obstacles to growth, such as a popping of the latest energy bubble.

California and Texas are political mirror images. Once-Democratic Texas has  voted solidly Republican for three decades. Once-Republican California is solidly blue. Texan George W. Bush was trounced in California, home of Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon, in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Barack Obama ran up big numbers in California in both 2008 and 2012 – the opposite of his Texas results. This lopsided pattern of support continues: Obama’s approval rating is more than 60 percent in California, just 40 percent in Texas.

The inter-state job search migration

The Internal Revenue Service created a bit of a kerfuffle last week when it announced that it would no longer publish data on interstate taxpayer migration and the income they take with them. This would be a huge disservice not just to economists and policy analysts but to all Americans.

This IRS migration data provides the best evidence that low-tax, limited-government states attract employers, families and individuals, while states pursuing the same policies as the White House – higher taxes, bigger government and more onerous regulations – drive businesses and taxpayers away. It’s not hard to fathom why the Obama administration, despite its promise to be the most transparent in history, would want the IRS to stop publishing this damning evidence.

California, Illinois and Maryland, which have some of the highest tax burdens and biggest state governments in the country, may have finally realized the deleterious economic effects that come with following President Barack Obama’s approach to governance.

Can one-party rule fix California?

California is on the verge of becoming a one-party state — but policy gridlock isn’t going anywhere soon.

Democrats now hold all the statewide offices and have a shot Tuesday at achieving two-thirds majorities in the Legislature. Yet they are far from being able to unilaterally resolve California’s fiscal logjam.

For the past decade, California’s fiscal picture has been awash in red ink, legislative stalemates, borrowing and a lot of budgetary gimmickry.  Three governors in a row, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, hit a stone wall in trying to resolve the state’s structural deficit—the  imbalance between ongoing spending and available tax revenues — that has persisted in the $10-billion plus range.

2013: The year of tax reform

Policy and political circles are now both talking about the prospect of comprehensive federal tax reform next year. From Capitol Hill to Wall Street to Main Street, people are asking how this reform will be structured. They should look to states across the country for their model. Many are due to embark on sweeping overhauls, even complete rewrites, of their tax codes in 2013.

Lawmakers in numerous state capitals are now poised to introduce major tax reform when they come back into session early next year. As we’ve seen with other policy matters, reforms that percolate in the states often make their way to Washington. More than half of all state governments are controlled by one political party, so it’s likely that state lawmakers will move far more quickly than the folks on Capitol Hill. What these state legislators do will provide a preview of and parallel the debate in the new Congress.

Consider North Carolina. Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction, and next month the Tar Heel State is likely to become the 26th state where Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, has said that tax reform will be a top priority if he is elected, which appears likely given his double-digit lead in the latest polls. The state now has one of the nation’s least competitive tax regimes. But based on proposals being discussed at the capitol, North Carolina lawmakers next year could enact one of the boldest and most pro-growth state tax reforms in history.

Occupy the tax code

By David Callahan

The views expressed are his own.

Chalk one up for Occupy Wall Street. Last Thursday, the New York State legislature voted to raise taxes on high-earners after Governor Andrew Cuomo reversed his longstanding opposition to such a move. Cuomo cited a large budget gap in explaining his about-face, but that gap is hardly new. What is: taxing the top 1 percent is far easier now than it was a few months ago.

The victory in Albany comes just as the Occupy movement finds itself in need of a second act. With the tents gone from Zuccotti Park – and encampments vanishing from other major cities, too – it’s time for the movement to get serious about influencing public policy. Pushing for higher taxes on the rich is a perfect focal point for new activism.

Next year will see the biggest tax fights in a decade. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2012 and President Obama is determined that the wealthy should pay higher rates. In addition, both parties want to reform the tax code – an overhaul that would trigger a struggle over the generous loopholes that now favor corporations and rich individuals.

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