Last year, more people left California for other states than moved to California. Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that climate change-fueled wildfires, high taxes and the political climate are chasing folks out of the nation's most populous state.
For the first time in a long time, The American Dream is becoming harder to pair with The California Dream.
Right now, folks out west are choking from all the nightmare-like wildfires that have turned the skies a hazy orange and added to the summer dry cough. So you'd imagine that folks are talking to the press about moving just now. Those thoughts might go away after the next front drops a few inches of rain in various valleys.
But recent fires don't explain this: Late last year, the University of California at Berkeley conducted a poll showing that most California residents have given some "consideration to leaving the state because of the high cost of housing, heavy taxation, or political culture."
California certainly has its advantages, which is why more people live there than any other state. For starters, the four seasons are at your service. You can work in one of the cities and drive to the snow in a few hours. The snow doesn't necessarily come to you. Ask for that in Buffalo, N.Y.
People in California are healthier, statistically speaking. Some of the best colleges can be found there. If you like beaches, sports, nightlife, art and great food, it's hard to beat the Left Coast. And we haven't even mentioned the awe-inspiring beauty of the place.
But Californians are leaving anyway. From The Post's article:
"Median income in the state is $75,277. The median home price in San Francisco is $1.3 million, nearly twice that of Los Angeles. The state government is doing next to nothing to close the gap.
"Three years ago, state lawmakers approved the nation's second-highest gasoline tax, adding more than 47 cents to the price of a gallon. With home prices skyrocketing along the coast, service workers in particular are moving farther inland from their jobs and into fire country, meaning they are paying far more as a share of their income on fuel just to stay employed."
Not only that, but by driving folks inland, away from their jobs, they'll have to commute farther every day, hampering the state's efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Doubtless there are political reasons that some folks have gone eastward, too. Although The Post paints this in a positive light, we wonder how many would think some of these measures are not so advantageous:
"Through legislation or direct action at the ballot box, California voters established the country's first 'sanctuary state' for undocumented immigrants, built from the ground a vibrant justice-reform movement, and committed to some of the boldest environmental protection goals in the country.
"In addition, a measure to restore affirmative action to college admission decisions, banned since 1996, is on the November ballot. The legislature just created a committee to study the cost of reparations to racial and ethnic groups the state has historically mistreated. Marijuana is legal. So are hallucinogenic mushrooms in Oakland."
For those who wouldn't necessarily check all those boxes in the want ads, have we got a deal for you.
Actually, we could have a deal for you. If leaders of our own state government would give it a shot.
For several years now, this column has been pushing for a moratorium on income taxes for five years to any new state resident. Anybody moving to Arkansas would pay zero state income taxes until after five years here. For somebody in high-tax California, or New York, or Illinois, this could be an electromagnetic draw.
Arkansas could make national news by passing such legislation. (Free advertising!) And such a plan would put us on a competitive basis with other states. And since those people aren't living here now, it wouldn't cost Arkansas anything.
In addition, retirees looking for a four-season state without the four-star taxes would move here with their savings accounts and open new deposits in local banks--which in turn could lend money to stimulate even more growth.
Are there any other states that offer a temporary moratorium on income taxes? If so, we're not aware of them. Arkansas would have a unique program to try to boost economic development for the entire state, benefiting low income, middle income and, in fact, all Arkansans.
We can't promise perfect weather. We have tornadoes, ice storms and the occasional hurricane. What we can do is offer housing that's less than $1.3 million a whack. Our own state beauty. And--if we only would--a tax break that would be the talk of the nation.