What do you know? It turns out Texas Gov. Rick Perry has an ulterior motive for spending so much time in California. Sure, he’s selling his state to California businesses, promising lower taxes and less regulation. And yeah, he’s positioning himself for a second run at the Republican presidential nomination.
But it also looks like he could be fixin’ to move here when he leaves office at the end of the year.
At least that’s what he told Mark Leibovich of the New York Times magazine, who sat down with the Texas governor recently in Beverly Hills at the Jewish deli Nate ‘n Al.
“Perry told me that he loves California, vacations in San Diego annually, visits the state about six times a year and might even move here in January when he’s done with his 14-year stint running Texas,” Leibovich wrote. “That is, if he does not somehow decide to run for president.”
When I read that, I almost spit out my Chardonnay in my hot tub.
Given that Perry has spent so much time encouraging businesses to leave California for Texas — including running pro-Texas radio spots in California that Gov. Jerry Brown compared to minor flatulence — doesn’t that seem a teensy bit hypocritical? If Texas is so darn great, Gov. Perry, why not stay there?
Because maybe Texas isn’t so darn great after all.
In fact, the so-called Texas Miracle that Perry has touted during multiple trips to the Golden State (and will certainly use as his rational for a presidential run), is not much of a miracle at all. It’s kind of a nightmare for average people.
Periodically, a group of Texas legislators puts out a report called "Texas on the Brink" that compares the state's rankings on public policy issues like education and the environment. The most recent one notes that “Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the nation, and second highest percentage of uninsured children. Texas is dead last in the percentage of adults who graduated from high school and near last in SAT scores.”
In the March/April/May 2014 issue of Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman essentially demolished the meme that Texas is an oasis for working families and businesses looking for a relief from high-tax, high-regulation states like California.
Longman does not argue with the high rate of job growth in Texas, and acknowledges that many of the jobs are at the high end. But those jobs, he writes, are tied to the huge boom in Texas’s cyclical oil and gas industry, which happens to be on an upswing right now. And the population of Texas may be swelling, but not because Californians are flooding the state. (In 2012, the net migration of Californians to Texas was 19,697.) Texas population growth is driven by immigration and a high birth rate.
Here’s an excerpt from Longman’s piece, which should be read it its contrarian entirety:
“…[F]or most Americans, as well as for most businesses, moving to Texas would not mean paying less in taxes, and for many it would mean paying more.
"Oh yes, I know what you’ve heard. And it’s true, as the state’s boosters like to brag, that Texas does not have an income tax. But Texas has sales and property taxes that make its overall burden of taxation on low-wage families much heavier than the national average, while the state also taxes the middle class at rates as high or higher than in California. For instance, non-elderly Californians with family income in the middle 20 percent of the income distribution pay combined state and local taxes amounting to 8.2 percent of their income, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy; by contrast, their counterparts in Texas pay 8.6 percent.
"And unlike in California, middle-class families in Texas don’t get the advantage of having rich people share equally in the cost of providing government services. The top 1 percent in Texas have an effective tax rate of just 3.2 percent. That’s roughly two-fifths the rate that’s borne by the middle class, and just a quarter the rate paid by all those low-wage 'takers' at the bottom 20 percent of the family income distribution. This Robin-Hood-in-reverse system gives Texas the fifth-most-regressive tax structure in the nation.”
So, bottom line: Texas is hospitable ... to large corporations and rich people.
Longman also explains in detail how the tax breaks that Texas doles out to corporations do nothing to benefit what politicians are always touting as the lifeblood of the economy – small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.
Even worse, low levels of entrepreneurship in the Lone Star State have created barriers to upward mobility. He cites a Harvard/Berkeley study that tracked the upward mobility of children born into “families of modest means in different parts of the country.” The researchers, wrote Longman, discovered that children in San Francisco and Los Angeles and San Diego had only a modest chance of going from the bottom fifth of earners to the top fifth as adults.
“But California,” he wrote, “looks like the land of opportunity compared to Texas.”
Texas kids have about half the chance that California kids do of transcending their families’ economic conditions, leading Longman to conclude that “the claim that Texas triumphs over the rest of America as the land of opportunity is all hat and no cattle.”
Which gets us back to Perry, who seems to be having the equivalent of a geographical mid-life crisis.
Even as he told the New York Times that he’s thinking about moving to California, he told reporters in Sacramento the state is “losing its lustre.”
Sounds like he talking out both sides of his mouth. Or maybe he's just trying to keep us to himself.