Daniel J. Mitchell

President Obama’s fiscal policy is a dismal mixture. On spending, he wants a European-style welfare state. On taxes, he is fixated on class-warfare tax policy.

If we want to know the consequences of that approach, we can look at the ongoing collapse of Greece. Or, if we don’t like overseas examples, we can look at California.

If the (formerly) Golden State is any example, it turns out that having high tax rates doesn’t necessarily translate into high tax revenues. Here’s a blurb from an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal.

California Controller John Chiang reported last week that April tax collections were a gigantic 20.2%, or $2.44 billion, below 2012-13 budget projections. …Among the biggest surprises is a 21.5% or nearly $2 billion decline in personal income tax payments from what Governor Jerry Brown had anticipated. This reinforces the point that when states rely too heavily on the top 1% of taxpayers to pay the bills, fiscal policy is a roller coaster ride. California is suffering this tax drought even as most other states enjoy a revenue rebound. State tax collections were up nationally by 8.9% last year, according to the Census Bureau, and this year revenues are up by double digits in many states. The state comptroller reports that Texas is enjoying 10.9% growth in its sales taxes (it has no income tax), while California can’t seem to keep up despite one of the highest tax rates in the land.

The WSJ editorial suggests a supply-side response, but you won’t be surprised to learn that the state’s kleptomaniac governor is pushing an Obama-style soak-the-rich tax hike.

This would seem to suggest that California should try cutting tax rates to keep more people and business in the state, but Sacramento is intent on raising them again. Governor Brown and the public-employee unions are sponsoring a ballot initiative in November to raise the state sales tax by a quarter point to 7.5% and to raise the top marginal income-tax rate to 13.3% from 10.3%. This will make the state even more reliant on the fickle revenue streams provided by the rich. Meanwhile, an analysis by Joseph Vranich, who studies migration of businesses from one state to another, finds that since 2009 the flight of businesses out of California “has increased fivefold due to high taxes and regulatory costs.”


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.