Opinion Journal – Meathead Economics: Hollywood liberals drive productive Californians to leave the state

It takes hard work to drive anyone away from California’s sunshine and scenic vistas, but politicians in Sacramento have been up to the task.

The latest Census Bureau data indicate that, in 2005, 239,416 more native-born Americans left the state than moved in. California is also on pace to lose domestic population (not counting immigrants) this year

I keep seeing cars with Washington plates, but with license plate covers that say San Francisco Mini, or Dublin Honda, Mercedes of Pleasanton, or whatever.

What’s gone wrong? A big part of the story is a tax and regulatory culture that treats the most productive businesses and workers as if they were ATMs. The cost to businesses of complying with California’s rules, regulations and paperwork is more than twice as high as in other Western states.

But the worst growth killer may well be California’s tax system. The business tax rate of 8.8% is the highest in the West, and its steeply “progressive” personal income tax has an effective top marginal rate of 10.3%, or second highest in the nation. CalTax, the state’s taxpayer advocacy group, reports that the richest 10% of earners pay almost 75% of the entire income-tax revenue in the state, and most of these are small-business owners, i.e., the people who create jobs.

Except most of those richest earners leave. When born-and-bred Californian and Stanford student Tiger Woods signed his Nike deal, he moved to Florida in the same day. Think how much money the State’s lost by running him out of town. It makes no sense.

And things may soon get worse, thanks to Rob Reiner… and his rich Hollywood friends have put an initiative on the state’s June ballot that would add a 1.7-percentage-point income-tax surcharge on “millionaires” with income over $400,000, with the proceeds earmarked for universal pre-school.

All of this has contributed to the trend of wealthy taxpayers disappearing from the state. State finance office data indicate that the number of Californians reporting million-dollar incomes fell to 25,000 in 2003 from 44,000 in 2000. That decline has cost the state $9 billion a year in uncollected tax revenues. The dot-com implosion of 2000 and 2001 no doubt wiped out many paper millionaires, but migration out of the state to escape its hefty tax premium has also played a role. Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes notes that the average high-income individual can buy a newly built house in neighboring Nevada and pay for it just from the money saved in a year of not paying California taxes.

Ridiculous. So now they’re all moving up here away from the “rat race” and driving up property prices, keeping me out of a nice little condo in walking distance of some shops! Well, that’s all conjecture, but I’m sure it’s going on.