California: A case study of bad economic policies

Around the world, countries have been unable to repay massive debts in wake of the global recession. In the US specifically, California is drowning in deficits created by huge welfare programs and lavish government spending. Stockton California has become infamous as the first US city to actually declare bankruptcy. Business Insider reports on California’s current financial and why we should use it as a prime example of bad fiscal policies:

Three California cities have recently declared bankruptcy: Stockton, the largest American city ever to do so; San Bernardino, the second-largest bankrupt city; and Mammoth Lakes. Compton is rumored to be next; most observers expect more to follow.

The state faces another large budget deficit, yet Governor Jerry Brown’s budget this year includes a substantial spending increase. Brown’s ballot initiative this November would raise California’s top personal income-tax rate to 13.3%, the nation’s highest. According to Brown, the tax hike would be temporary, yet it would last seven years. Meanwhile, he claims to be tough on California’s notoriously well-paid and powerful public-employee unions by negotiating a 5% pay cut. But the details reveal a net 1.6% pay cut in exchange for a 5% reduction in work hours.

Cities are declaring bankruptcy to escape the pressure of exponentially rising pension and health costs. In contrast to the state, cities have even cut back essential services, including 20% reductions in police and fire personnel.

These sorry episodes reveal some important lessons. One-party government weakens accountability and breeds hubris. The California legislature has been controlled by the Democratic Party for decades, and it takes its cue from its party’s most powerful special interests: public-employee unions, environmentalists, trial lawyers, and teachers’ unions.

They have concocted an extremely progressive social experiment: with 12% of the US population, California has more than 30% of its welfare dependents. From the mid-1980’s to 2005, California’s population grew by 10 million, while Medicaid recipients soared by seven million; tax filers paying income taxes rose by just 150,000; and the prison population swelled by 115,000.

The state income tax is not only uncompetitively high, but the revenues are volatile. In the economic and stock-market upswing, revenues roll in far more rapidly than incomes rise, owing to the extremely progressive income tax (in good years, the top 1% pays about half the state’s income taxes).

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