Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

California, Leading from Behind

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

california-leading-from-behindCalifornia has given us three new truths about government.

One, the higher that taxes rise, the worse state services become.

Two, the worse a natural disaster hits, the more the state contributes to its havoc.

And three, the more existential the problem, the more the state ignores it.

California somehow has managed to have the fourth-highest gas taxes in the nation, yet its roads are rated 44th among the 50 states. Nearly 70 percent of California roads are considered to be in poor or mediocre condition by the state senate. In response, the state legislature naturally wants to raise gas taxes, with one proposal calling for an increase of 12 cents per gallon, which would give California the highest gas taxes in the nation.

Because oil prices have crashed, state bureaucrats apparently believe that the public won’t notice the tax increase in their fill-up costs – even though special California fuel mandates already help make gas prices 25 percent higher than the national average.

Consider California’s upside-down logic.

The state wanted to discourage driving and promote hybrid vehicles by upping taxes on carbon fuels. It worked, though it cost the public dearly. People drove less and bought more fuel-efficient cars. But now, because less gas is burned, fewer taxes are collected. So the state wants to reward motorists for their green sacrifices by raising their taxes even higher to make up for missing revenue. If state motorists drive even less and cram into two-seat commuter cars, will California further reward them with even higher gas taxes?

Notice what the state does not consider.

Are highway bureaucracies such as the California Department of Transportation run efficiently? The nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office recently reported waste and inefficiency in Caltrans, citing a staggering 3,500 unnecessary Caltrans employees, and declaring the agency more inefficient than other states’ transportation bureaucracies.

If California motorists are driving far fewer miles, shouldn’t roads wear out more slowly – and additional taxes not need to be raised for repairs? Could state revenues that have been diverted to the high-speed rail boondoggle instead be used for road repairs?

And how can a state with the highest number of poor people in the nation – 23 percent of Californians are below the accepted poverty line, according to the Census Bureau – ensure that its gas prices will be the highest in the nation?

California may be transitioning out of a devastating four-year drought. But the state at least should have taken advantage of that record stretch of dry, sunny weather to rush construction of new dams, reservoirs, and canals to trap more rain and snowmelt. It never did. Despite talk of raising the height of Shasta Dam, as planned decades ago, or creating new reservoirs and San Francisco delta tunnels, nothing happened. Such projects are mired in endless environmental and cultural lawsuits.

Farmers want back their contracted surface water that environmentalists successfully went to court to divert to the sea. Greens want even more scarce water let out to the ocean to realize their dreams of the sort of rivers that ran through the state in the 19th century. But both agendas rely on more stored water.

Once the storms resume in normal fashion, millions of acre-feet of precious water will be lost to sea due to an antiquated storage system.

Only in California can government manage to turn both dry and wet years to its disadvantage.

There is a growing state epidemic of obesity. More than 30 percent of California children are overweight, and the rate is even higher among children from low-income families ages two to five.

Nearly one in three Californians over age 34 who are hospitalized for any cause are found to suffer from diabetes. That lifestyle- and weight-related disease generally hits the poor and the Latino population even harder.

The epidemic is reflected in record costs for the state Medi-Cal health-insurance program that covers about one-third of California’s nearly 40 million residents. Medi-Cal costs have recently skyrocketed to $74 billion a year. That staggering figure is about half the size of the entire state budget. Had the federal government not kicked in more than $50 billion to fund rising Medi-Cal costs, California would now be broke.

Given that California has the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the nation, and that well over half arrive from Mexico, where 70 percent of the population is overweight and nearly 33 percent are obese (the highest obesity rate in the world among heavily populated countries), the state should be in crisis mode. If state government insists on policies that encourage undocumented immigrants to settle in California, and allows so-called sanctuary cities to ignore federal immigration law, it should at least have a massive health-information and outreach campaign – given that Type 2 diabetes is almost always a preventable disease.

Meanwhile, the state health-care system is in near collapse, and millions of California residents are sick and dying from a mostly avoidable disease.

California government, however, serves one purpose.

It always reminds America what not to do.

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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