Florida’s High-Tax Population Flight?

Via Joe Mathews, here’s yet another powerful piece of evidence that the Yacht Party scaremongering over how high taxes force people to leave California is a load of fertilizer.

TALLAHASSEE — For the first time since the end of World War II, the growth state of Florida lost population, researchers say, in a sign that the economic recession is even worse than many had feared.

In all, the state lost about 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to a new estimate from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“It’s such a dramatic shift from what we’ve seen in the past,” said Stan Smith, the bureau’s director.

“Florida’s economy is, in a lot of ways, driven by population growth,” he said. “Perhaps more importantly, population growth is a reflection of how the economy is doing both in Florida and in the nation.”

It goes without saying here that Florida has no state income tax.

Attributing population shifts to taxes is about as rational as attributing student test scores to rain.  If you want to correlate populations and the economy, the Occam’s razor explanation would be that people go where the jobs are.  And I would add that people who cannot find a job probably won’t stay around a place long if the social safety net is vaporized.

The lack of political media in the state allows urban legends like this to take hold through the only outlets left, right-wing radio and persistent rumor.  You get the falsehoods you pay for listening to such garbage.  If we had 100 Peter Schrags in the media and twice that in the Democratic Party leadership forcefully rebutting such misinformation and making the value-based case for the kind of progressive government they’d like to see, at least there would be a counterweight.  But it’s hard to argue something with nothing.

(I’m putting some of Schrag’s article below the fold, because it’s brilliant and a great resource for arguing with friends and neighbors.  Read the whole thing.)

But the truth is far more complicated. California’s tax burden – total state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income –is just slightly higher than the U.S. average and ranks 17th among the states. In personal income and corporate taxes we’re high among the states. In property and sales taxes we’re low.

The same goes for spending. According to a recent analysis by the California Budget Project, California’s expenditures as a percentage of personal income ranked 22nd among the states in 2007-8 — they’ll probably rank far lower in the current fiscal year. Our school spending per-pupil is well below the national average and our spending on highways is near the bottom. National experts rate California’s highways, once the national model, as among the most congested and in the worst condition of any state in the nation.

We are among the biggest spenders on corrections, thanks to three-strikes and other rigid mandatory sentencing laws and the power of the prison guards’ union. But even so, the state now faces a federal court order to reduce its prison population by some 40,000 inmates – roughly 25 percent of the total — because its overcrowded correctional institutions lack the resources to give them even minimally adequate medical care. Our spending on pensions for cops and firefighter is past obscene.

But while mythology says – as it probably does everywhere — that the state staggers under a bloated workforce of bureaucrats and other public employees, California has the second lowest ratio of public employees per capita in the nation. And of course there is the persistent mythology, discussed several times before in this space – that high taxes are driving affluent individuals and job-producing businesses to Arizona, Nevada, Texas and other states. That, too, according to studies by the Public Policy Institute of California, is mostly myth.