I love California. I am typing this blog right now on my patio. It is mid January and it is 80 degrees outside. The sun, blue skies, warm breeze and palm trees are such a part of my life that I used to take them for granted. Then I started traveling for work. It was a slow (albeit obvious) realization for me that the vast majority of the country is not sitting on their patio in mid January getting a tan.
But living in California is not all sunshine and lollipops. We have terrible traffic in Southern California. There are parts of the state where illegal immigration and a decline in farming have caused pockets of third-world-like poverty. Legislators in California have been so irresponsible with state spending that California now faces a 28 billion dollar annual budget shortfall. That makes us worse off fiscally than Greece, and California has the 8th largest economy in the world. The voters themselves have been complicit in the problem by making it easier for our state government to spend and more difficult to raise taxes.
So what’s a Californian to do? Apparently many are giving up on the Golden State. For the last six years California has lost more domestic population than it has gained from other states. The only reason that California’s population has not declined as a whole is the continuing influx of immigrants from other countries to California – both through legal and illegal immigration.
When my sister wanted to rent a truck to move to Texas in 2009, U-haul told her that the cost to rent a truck from California to Texas was three times the cost of renting a truck from Texas to California. Apparently the traffic has primarily been moving one way. Reagan used to say that people voted with their feet, or their U-hauls, as the case may be.
If too many businesses and taxpayers are leaving California for greener pastures in Texas, Nevada, Arizona and Washington state, maybe the Powers That Be in California will learn something from those states that are attracting ex-Californians. The genius of 50 United States over one State is that good state government will be rewarded and bad state government will be culled – eventually.
The states’ differences also allow a more representative democracy. People are not all alike, so why would we want states that are all alike? Texans think differently than New Englanders in many ways. Those differences are reflected in those state’s governments. If California’s government is at odds with my principles, I have the ability to move to a state that more closely mirrors my beliefs. (But oh boy would I miss the weather!)
Finally, states can act as the petri dish for progress. If Maryland has excellent education results, states with failing schools can learn from what they are doing. In the same way, districts within a state can learn from the success or failure of programs in other districts. If Nevada’s zero tax rate draws a lot of business to that state, other states should consider that a lesson. If California’s AB32 cap and trade system is a success and creates a new green jobs economy that grows revenue and revitalizes California, then I would expect other states to follow suit. If AB32’s new environmental regulations hurt California’s economy and constrict business growth, then I hope other states learn from our mistake.
The reason the founders wanted so much independence left to the states was that they understood the importance of the competition of thought and approach to governing. The federal government exists in large part to make sure that the states do not infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights. For example, recently the Supreme Court declared Chicago’s ban on guns unconstitutional because it violated the 2nd Amendment. Outside of the power delegated to the federal government by the constitution, powers are “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
They say that the best politics are local. Local leaders understand their constituents’ priorities, neighborhood’s challenges, and the area’s needs in a way that Washington cannot. The power in our government should be greatest with those closest to the people they represent and smallest at the federal level, where decisions impact us as one monolithic state.
In America we strive to protect and appreciate diversity of speech, religion, and ethnicity. Let’s not forget to also respect and value the differences in our 50 states. Without it, we have only our own mistakes or breakthroughs to learn from.