Is Texas the new California?

Originally published in the Orange County Register on June 24, 2011

Chart courtesy Esmael Adibi, Chapman University

Written by Brian Calle

Is Texas the new California? A bustling economy, housing at affordable levels and some of the most aggressive examples of business-friendly public policies in the country make Texas desirable not only for entrepreneurs and retirees but also right-leaning voters desperately searching for some hope for a fiscally responsible public-policy renaissance and a new face for a Republican Party that needs one.

California, once a Republican stronghold (believe it or not), helped steer national political discourse and boasted its viability as an economic leader among states. But with a mass exodus of both business and job seekers, a confining regulatory infrastructure and a high cost of living, California appears to be riding off into the sunset, economically speaking.

Today, Texas is the big state leading the pack and, based on its public policy approaches, it should. The parallels though between today’s Lone Star State and the Golden State of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are apparent. So much so, in fact, Texas seemingly has become the new California – that is, the economic engine of the country, the innovation capital and perhaps, its political powerhouse, too.

Comparisons of the politics, economics and public policy of California and Texas have become en vogue, and rightly so. Both states are big, iconic and yes, eccentric. California is the largest state by population in the United States; Texas is second. By area, Texas is the second largest state and California is third. (Alaska is first.) Both states have significant (and growing) Latino populations. And both states share a border with Mexico.

In some ways, both states represent the broader future, and possible directions, of the nation – demographically, politically and economically. One a blue state. One a red state. One liberal in public policy, the other conservative in political approaches. One faltering, the other thriving. While the Gold Rush has seemingly ended for California, Texas is in high growth mode. In fact, since the start of the nation’s economic recovery, more than one-third of new jobs came from Texas, according to the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.

Texas governor Rick Perry put it this way in a email to me: “Here in Texas, we’ve worked hard to create an economic environment that allows people to risk their capital and get a good return on their investment by focusing on keeping taxes low, maintaining a reasonable and predictable regulatory climate and fair legal system – which was further strengthened with the passage of loser pays legislation this session – and developing a skilled workforce. These principles, combined with competitive investments from the Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund have helped attract investment dollars and thousands of jobs to our state, and top researchers to our universities.”

As Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi recently noted, since California’s 2007 employment peak, the state has lost nearly 1.4 million payroll jobs. Meanwhile, Texas is boasting a job boom of more than 200,000 new jobs the past two years. From 2000-10, California has seen a net employment loss of 100,000 jobs whereas Texas saw a net gain of 1.4 million payroll jobs. Moreover, from 2005-09, California saw a net loss of 870,000 residents. People are leaving the state for three reasons, according to Adibi: jobs, housing prices and taxes, both state and local – all factors that play to the advantage of Texas.

California is a notoriously high-tax state, 49th in the United States in overall taxation (New York is 50th). California inflicts a flurry of taxes on residents including a state sales tax that is the second-highest in the nation and the third-highest state income tax, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation. By comparison, Texas ranks ninth overall; it has no state income tax; and ranks 14th of 50 states for sales tax. To be fair, California scores better than Texas on property taxes because of Proposition 13, which became law in 1978, when the state was at least somewhat fiscally sane.

Even though property taxes are less-high in the Golden State, housing is not nearly as affordable as in the Lone Star State. During Chapman University’s recent economic forecast update, Adibi said that housing in Texas costs a fraction of what it does in California. The median 2009 home price in Austin was $187,400, compared with Orange County’s 2009 median home price of $477,200. “In other words, the median home price in Austin is about 60 percent cheaper than what it is in Orange County,” Adibi said in an email.

Unemployment in Texas is at 8 percent, below the national of 9 percent – while California has the second-highest rate of joblessness, 11.7 percent in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Regulation also plays a major role in whether a state declines or surges. California’s onerous labor standards, especially for overtime pay, are a disincentive for businesses to come to the state, or to stay and grow. For instance, California requires overtime pay after eight hours in a day; the federal law allows more flexibility, starting the overtime clock after 40 hours in a work week. Texas’ overtime laws are in line with federal standards. Texas is also a right-to-work state, meaning workers cannot be required to join a union or pay dues or fees to a union; California is not.

The cherry on top for Texas, though, is the recent passage of loser-pays legislation, which tends to curb frivolous lawsuits and will likely attract new businesses, especially in the medical field.

Even politically, California has lost ground and influence to Texas, especially within the Republican Party. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s California Republicans helped set the tone for national policy and political discourse. Two Republican presidents were elected (two times each) in that time frame from the Golden State – Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The most recent Republican president, though, is from Texas and given recent events, perhaps the next one will be as well.

The Nixon and Reagan eras of the presidency parallel political realities today. The Watergate scandal’s impact on the Republican Party, including Nixon’s resignation, led to Jimmy Carter winning the presidency in 1976. Carter won Texas that year while Republican President Gerald Ford won California. (How times have changed.) Four years later, Reagan ousted Carter and became the 40th president, perhaps a testament to the ideological and public policy leadership from California politicos at the time.

Fast forward to more recent presidential politics: President George W. Bush’s time in the White House ended with a public seemingly fed up with the leadership of the former Texas chief executive and the broader Republican Party, perhaps not to the extent it was with Nixon, but still enough to help usher in the presidency of Barack Obama – a president, some would argue, who is in the same mold as Jimmy Carter.

Current Texas Gov. Perry appears to be weighing a presidential run. If he does decide to announce his candidacy, some, including me, believe he would become the instant front-runner. Not only because the rest of the presidential field is, well, bland, but because Texas, which Perry has governed 10 years, enacted sane economic policy and conservative approaches to government – and is thriving.

While California legislators of the past few decades should serve as examples of how not to govern, Texas is perhaps one of the best examples of how more free-market, fiscally conservative approaches to public policy work to propel economies. It is a message that needs exposure, especially now, and perhaps the best endorsement for a Perry presidential campaign.

Of course, Texas is not without its challenges nor is Perry without his questionable policy choices, but when comparing the failed policies of California, those akin to the type of big government philosophy President Obama has brought to Washington, to the taxpayer-friendly approaches deployed in Texas, the choice is clear: Texas, Texas, yeehaw!

Brian Calle is an Opinion Columnist and Editorial Writer for the Orange County Register, a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, an Unruh Fellow at the Jesse Unruh Institute atthe University of Southern California and editor of the California Political Review. He can be contacted at bcalle@ocregister.com.