Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Tale of Three States: Kansas, California, and Florida

Robert Reich recently pointed out that if you listen to rightwing groups like the Tax Foundation, you would think California is a horrible place for business. These groups rank it in the top 10 worst due to "high cost" and "burdensome environmental regulations". However, these same groups rank Sam Brownback's Kansas as one of the best.

Here's the problem with that:

Kansas is collapsing. In four short years, since the tea party takeover, Kansas has had three credit downgrades along with a billion-dollar budget deficit. They are struggling to fund basic services and their education system is hanging on by a thread, with cutbacks making it almost dead last in teacher quality, pay, student spending and pupil-teacher ratio. It's so bad that REPUBLICAN state Sen. Wint Winter Jr. said Brownback's tax cuts have been a "train wreck".

Yet while the Sunflower state is falling apart, the Eureka State is CRUSHING it.

By any metric you use, California has become the best state in the union for investors. A great Democratic governor (Jerry Brown) and a Democratic-led legislature turned California around in four short years from a 27 billion dollar deficit disaster into a surplus and, according to Bloomberg, an absolute mecca for corporations! California companies in the S&P 500 have delivered returns of 134 percent! (No other state comes close.) These same companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a margin of 23%; and CA tech company sales account for 52% of all the tech sales in America.

So how can California have some of the highest business taxes and regulations in America, and yet be the most successful? The answer is simple. California invested in itself!

By cutting education, infrastructure development, and other vital social services, Kansas squandered the billions of dollars into paying for very wealthy people's tax cuts on the zombie alter of the failed cult known as "trickle-down economics". California, on the other hand, asked that its corporations contribute fairly and used the tax money to invest heavily in infrastructure, higher education, and research and development. Companies flocked to California and scored big. Also, as Reich points out, the environmental regulations not only didn't hurt the economy, they EXPANDED it. Companies were driven to fuel innovation in the fast-growing field of renewable energy. Furthermore, California didn't demonize immigrants, they welcomed them and gave undocumented immigrants driver's licenses.

California is once again leading the way.

Rick Scott, of course, is aggressively trying to follow the disastrous Brownback model. He's very lucky that our state has a lot of natural resources, great climate, and tourist attractions that help sustain us during disaster (like a hurricane or the current tea party legislature). However, he has done his damnest to hurt us.

Scott pledged over $266,000,000.00 in tax breaks and incentives for the promise of 45,258 jobs, a large portion of which went to minimum wage jobs with annual salaries that don't even break the poverty line.

Public transportation is a complete joke in this state, and our roads are infamously clogged (unless you want to pay thousands in the extremely corrupted tolling agencies). Rick Scott cut over a billion in education spending and has led the attack on higher education. Scientists are held in very low regard by our state government. Our health care needs are huge, but thanks to Scott and the GOP refusing all subsidies for Medicaid, a a Florida citizen with kids needs to make UNDER $3200 A YEAR to qualify. Our pollution laws have been gutted, and our state is the most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Who the hell wants that? The people with skills you need for your company will go where they will be appreciated. Companies want to go somewhere that at least invests in basic infrastructure: a place where corporate employees can access public transportation and send their kids to receive reasonable k-12 education. Companies want access to a highly skilled labor force, not one where the citizens earn bottom-barrel wages (because that's the overwhelming majority of jobs we have available here). They want a state where they can partner with top schools: Florida's universities our not known for their academic standards as much as they are for their football teams.

Also, since we now have legalized homicide with Stand Your Ground, anyone can claim they had a "reasonable fear" and shoot you in the face even if you are unarmed and minding your own business. OF COURSE you don't want to live here. I DON'T want to live here either. And unless you are starting a company that just wants to exploit cheap labor, you aren't going to move here either no matter how low our tax rate is. It is the same reason I don't choose to live in a dilapidated condo on Orange Blossom Trail. It would save me a lot of money and I wouldn't have to deal with homeowner's association rules and fees, but there is something to be said about quality of life.

I am told by my brainwashed conservative friends that California is terrible, but I don't see boarded up storefronts in San Francisco. I see everyone with a living wage and healthcare. I see carefree and happy, which are two words that are never used to describe Kansas--and since 2010, Florida.

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