Thursday, April 29, 2010

Proposition 13 is not a good target for California's failures

The time to blame Proposition 13 for California's status as a failed state has long passed. The public understands this; the ruling elite refuses to believe it in the slightest.
Is it possible that California's pro-13 majority, denounced for decades as shortsighted and greedy, is actually on to something? The reason people refuse to believe that California's taxpayers keep too much money and its tax collectors don't get enough is, as Brown now says, that there's "so little confidence in state government."

The core of that distrust is the belief that California's public sector suffers not from the lack of money but from the failure to use the ample funds it does receive efficiently and beneficially. There's no shortage of facts about the revenue and spending sides of government, California-style, to justify that suspicion.

California, in the first place, is not a state with low taxes. It's not even a state with especially low property taxes. In 2007, the year of the most recent Census Bureau data comparing state finances, California's state and local governments levied $1,141 in property taxes per capita, less — but only 11% less — than the corresponding average, $1,288, for the 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

If we broaden the view to look at all taxes (property, income, sales and excise taxes) paid to state and local governments by individuals and corporations, California's governments received $4,731 per resident, 14% more than the $4,160 average outside California. Only eight states and the District of Columbia had a higher per capita tax burden.

Not only is California a high-tax state, it is even more conspicuously a high-revenue state. Things that aren't taxes, such as fees for government services, often have a high degree of "taxiness," as Stephen Colbert might say. The Golden State, routinely described as desperately short of funds because of Proposition 13, brought in $12,776 per capita in governmental income from all sources — taxes, fees, federal aid, charges for government-administered insurance and revenue from government-owned utilities — in 2007. Only three states and the District of Columbia received more.

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