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Gary Horton" Why can't California be more like Texas?

Posted: May 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.

I just returned from a three-day business trip to Austin, Texas. This was my third visit to Austin in 18 months. Each time, my visit has focused on business opportunities stemming from Austin’s robust population growth.


Austin is the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the United States. Texas Gov. Rick Perry likes to boast about Texas’s growth, but in this he might, as usual, be in over his submerged head.


For, while Austin may be be the nation’s fastest-growing city, it is also the only city in Texas most non-Texans would ever consider for a move. Austin is, more or less, a mini-California, plopped down in the middle of an otherwise big, smoky, desert, hickish, George-Bushy Texas.


Austin is cool. Austin is music. Austin is food, culture, high tech, embracing of diversity, beautiful countryside, productive, and wealthy. Like much of California, Austin is exactly what Texas is not.


But — and this is a big "but" — it is still in Texas, and that makes certain things more attractive there than here.


Texas has absolutely no state income tax. Zilch. While California’s state income tax currently caps out at an astonishingly stratospheric 14.63 percent, Texas doesn’t charge a penny in income tax. Just like Nevada.


And while Nevada skates by on America’s gambling addiction and Texas skates on oil leases feeding America’s oil addiction, California’s got beaches, beautiful people, high tech and Disneyland — and none of these pay the state quite as nicely as vice; hence, we tax.


If you’re a business owner, wouldn’t you rather save yourself 14.63 percent on every dollar you earn? That’s a big incentive for relocation to the Lone Star State.


But there’s no free lunch, and it turns out that Texas real estate is taxed at about 250 percent of California.


And, thanks to quirks in Prop. 13, California business real estate is taxed at even less — at about 1/6th of Texas business property.


Just some things to consider before loading up the covered wagon for the Promised Land.


Texas has a strong culture of personal responsibility and independence.


Where many Californians have become increasingly dependent on over-eager assistance programs unintentionally promoting generational poverty, Texas is a little quicker to let folks simmer in their own stew.


It may stink for their poor, but one outcropping of Texan stinginess is that most folks quite well understand they’ve got to live off their own wits and labor rather than that of others.


That’s a bit refreshing to an overworked middle-class.


The bias toward personal responsibility is beneficially enshrined in Texan law. While in California we’ve crafted the greatest victim culture ever known, with even minor accidents and incidents netting recipients hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, in Texas the law is more indifferent toward folks suffering their own foibles.


Loss of life is generally capped at $250,000, a number laughable in California. But with less risk on the table, there’s also less care toward safety and less value toward the loss of life.


So, while we look like a nanny state, Texas seems downright hazardous. It goes with their tough-guy image, I suppose.


Just about everything in Texas is bigger — and cheaper — than in California. Zoning and use permits are less rigorously applied, so homes cost less and are more accessible.


That said, they’re building apartments faster than houses, so perhaps those lower-across-the-board Texan wages aren’t quite enough to afford even those cheaper housing prices.


Texas is known for nothing if not for its gun culture. Indeed, just about anyone can carry a gun just about anywhere.


I visited a restaurant with a sign not even imaginable here. "Minors under age 18 not allowed to carry guns into the restaurant."


Still, for all the security gun nuts think guns give them, Texas also hosts more prison inmates and executions than California — even though they’re 10 million less populated than the Golden State.


Despite all the cold steel hardware abounding, I certainly felt no safer in Austin than Santa Clarita. And statistics prove it.


Score one for Santa Clarita law enforcement.


The top o’ the star of the Lone Star State is, of course, its BBQ. In cooking cows, California will never compete. Picture a state dominated by roadside stands, food carts, gas stations, and swanky eating palaces, all dedicated to perfection in turning Texas longhorns into wonderfully smoky brisket.


Friends, that alone pulls my heartstrings southward. ...


Having been to Austin, I can honestly say I could live there. It’s enough like California I could make the transition and be happy. That’s likely what most folks are thinking when they move there.


Still, I’m a Californian, born and bred, and I’d prefer to stay within an hour’s drive from our lovely Pacific Ocean and two hours from our mountain skiing.


I love our high-tech bend, our California girls, our Hollywood culture, our wacky Los Angeles over-the-top lifestyles, and our more communal commitment.


Yet, while enjoying all this fun and sun, why can’t California be just a little bit more like Texas and just a little bit less like us?


Could we at least start with moderating our nasty 14.63 percent income tax and a reformation of our tort and liability laws?


California, with those two Texan-like changes, and maybe better BBQ, could easily outgun and out run our Southern challenger.


Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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