California Is Leading from Behind

Consider California’s upside-down logic.

By Victor Davis Hanson // Tribune Media Services

Credit: Paul Chinn/The Chronicle
Credit: Paul Chinn/The Chronicle

California has given us three new truths about government.

One, the higher that taxes rise, the worst 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 2 to 5.

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 the fact 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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