By Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh
When California is ranked first in the nation, usually it’s something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, in recent years we’ve achieved a first-in-the-nation status that is far from being a point of pride: Highest taxed state in the country.
We lead all states with the highest individual income tax, highest state sales tax, and the largest gas tax. These excessive taxes have created record levels of revenue collected by the state and have led to record budget surpluses. In 2019 alone Governor Newsom’s budget saw a $21.5 billion surplus, the largest in state history and larger than the entire budgets of at least 20 states.
California taxpayers ought to be excited to hear about large surpluses. After all, shouldn’t large surpluses mean that we can finally hope for at least a little relief from all these suffocating taxes? Not under the liberal stranglehold of one-party rule. Instead, progressive legislators in Sacramento have increased taxes on California families by more than $2 billion.
California’s liberal appetite for tax increase has reached a sort of legendary status across the country. Many Americans now view California as having more in common with the socialist countries of Europe than with the rest of our nation. Considering this, it is unfortunately not surprising that many Californians are beginning to question whether remaining in the state is in the best interest of their families.
A 2019 poll by the Berkley Institute of Government Studies (IGS) found that more than half of registered California voters have recently considered leaving the state. Of those thinking of leaving 58% cited the state’s high taxes as a major reason for considering moving their families. Inland Empire voters led the rest of the state in both measures with 56% considering leaving the state, and 68% percent of those citing high taxes as a reason.
Californians fleeing the state to escape overwhelming taxes is not a new trend. In fact, a 2018 report by the California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) found that between 2007 and 2016 California saw a net migration (the difference between individuals moving into the state versus those leaving to other states) loss of 1 million residents. This trend worsened in 2018, when census data showed 691,000 residents fled California leading to a single year negative net migration of 190,000.
The most concerning findings from the report’s detailed analysis were the differences between demographic groups: Negative net migration was highest among middle- and low-income levels, and among those without graduate degrees. Educated elites and the rich still love California, but everyone else is suffering—and looking for greener pastures.
With so many Californians deciding to undergo the grueling process of relocation, you may be wondering where they are all going. Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington were the top state Californians moved to. It’s likely no coincidence that almost all of these states impose either no state income tax (Texas, Washington, and Nevada) or an income tax among the lowest in the country (Arizona). The sole exception is Oregon which, despite its income tax, still ranks in the top 10 of the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.
After the State Legislature’s own LAO report found indisputable evidence of the overwhelming harm our state’s high taxes have, especially on those outside of the top tax brackets, you might expect legislators would be persuaded to act and provide relief. Unfortunately, liberal legislators don’t even believe their own data, and now they are working to convince us to approve one of the largest single tax increases in the state’s history.
The “split roll” initiative placed on this year’s ballot by Sacramento legislators would create $10 billion dollars in new taxes annually. It would do so by attacking the only protection Californians still have against out of control tax increases: Proposition 13, which protects us from property tax hikes. Sacramento would like to us to believe that despite record revenue, and surpluses, and despite the fact that we can apparently afford to provide free healthcare to undocumented immigrants, the state simply cannot afford to properly fund public schools. As the argument goes, this is why we have to give up the protection provided by Prop. 13 and resign ourselves to yet more tax increases.
The truth is that California has developed a harmful addiction to tax increases, and it is lower- and middle-class Californians who suffer the consequences. Thanks to our highest-in-the nation taxes, legislators will once again see a substantial budget surplus during the 2020 legislative session. And once again, we would like to hope they will take advantage of the windfall to provide just a little tax relief for us. But after decades of tax increases, it’s hard for us to hold our breath.
Fortunately, voters have not one, but two opportunities on this year’s November ballot to send a loud and clear message to liberal legislators that they must break their addiction to tax increases. First, they can show that Californians are not as gullible as they think, and vote down their “Split Roll” initiative to increase our property taxes. Second, they can vote for representatives with a commitment to overcoming California’s liberal addiction to high taxes.
As the State Senator from district 23 my priority will always be to represent the interests of residents of the Inland Empire. My first step will be to oppose new taxes and look for ways to reduce the excessive tax burden borne by working families. I will oppose any changes to Prop 13, and work to roll back recent increases to the gas tax.
California is first in the nation in population, diversity, ingenuity, and natural beauty, and it’s first in my heart. The fact that our state is first in the nation in taxes isn’t something I’m proud of. But it’s something we can fix—together.