Driving across California is like going from Mississippi to Massachusetts without ever crossing a state line.
Consider the disconnects: California’s combined income and sales taxes are among the nation’s highest, but the state’s deficit is still about $16 billion. It’s estimated that more than 2,000 upper-income Californians are leaving per week to flee high taxes and costly regulations, yet California wants to raise taxes even higher; its business climate already ranks near the bottom of most surveys. Its teachers are among the highest paid on average in the nation, but its public school students consistently test near the bottom of the nation in both math and science.
The state’s public employees enjoy some of the nation’s most generous pensions and benefits, but California’s retirement systems are underfunded by about $300 billion. The state’s gas taxes — at over 49 cents per gallon — are among the highest in the nation, but its once unmatched freeways, like 101 and 99, for long stretches have degenerated into potholed, clogged nightmares unchanged since the early 1960s.
The state wishes to borrow billions of dollars to develop high-speed rail, beginning with a little-traveled link between Fresno and Corcoran — a corridor already served by money-losing Amtrak. Apparently, coastal residents like the idea of European high-speed rail — as long as noisy and dirty construction does not begin in their backyards.
How to explain the seemingly inexplicable? There is no California, which is a misnomer. There is no such state. Instead there are two radically different cultures and landscapes with little in common, each equally dysfunctional in quite different ways. Apart they are unworldly, together a disaster.