The Red State in Your Future
Voters around the country are concluding it’s better to be red than dead—applying a whole meaning to an old phrase. If you do not currently live in a red state, there’s a good chance you will be in the near future. Either you will flee to a red state or a red state will come to you—because voters fed up with blue-state fiscal irresponsibility will elect candidates who promise to pass red-state policies.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 25 state legislatures are controlled by Republicans and 16 by Democrats, with eight split (i.e., each party controlling one house). There are 29 Republican governors and 20 Democrats, with one independent. And there are 20 states where Republicans control both the legislature and governor’s mansion vs. 11 Democratic, with 18 split (one party controls the governor’s office and the other the legislature).
And though we are a year away from the 2012 election, generic Republican vs. Democratic polls have given Republicans the edge for more than a year. If that pattern holds—and if blue-state leaders refuse to learn from their policy mistakes, just like their true-blue leader in the White House—it likely means there will be even more red states in 2013.
One reason for that shift is that red states are taking fiscal responsibility while many blue states aren’t—and it shows. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a bipartisan association of conservative state legislators, recently released its fourth edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” by the well-known Reagan economist Arthur B. Laffer, the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore, and Jonathan Williams of ALEC.
The study looks at factors that affect state prosperity and economic outlook, such as tax burdens and population change. What’s clear is that red or red-leaning states dominate the top positions while blue states have the dubious distinction of dragging in last. In the economic outlook section, for example, the top 20 states are bright red or lean red, while eight out of the bottom 10 are very blue: New York, Vermont, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Most of the “poor states” states, as ALEC calls them, have the highest personal income tax rates and the largest unfunded state pension liabilities. But instead of taking the red-state approach by lowering taxes and/or cutting spending, the blue states tend to want to raise taxes even higher, just like their White House mentor.
The result of their overpromising and overspending, and their knee-jerk response to solving their fiscal problems by raising taxes, is that people are increasingly fleeing the blue states. As commentator Michael Medved points out: “Between 2009 and 2010 the five biggest losers in terms of ‘residents lost to other states’ were all prominent redoubts of progressivism: California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey. Meanwhile, the five biggest winners in the relocation sweepstakes are all commonly identified as red states in which Republicans generally dominate local politics: Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia.”
The good news is that some blue states [at least five in the nearby map] have seen the light and are turning red, embracing the limited government/low taxes red-state vision and are coming back from the brink. Maine, for example, is one of ALEC’s bottom 10 states. But as of the last election, Maine now has a Republican state house and governor. And the new governor has been pushing for the red-state approach, cutting both taxes and state spending.
The Washington Times recently pointed out that “at least a dozen [mostly red] states ended fiscal 2011 with surpluses.” Maine was one of them.
And Maine is not alone. Blue-leaning Michigan and Wisconsin both have elected Republican legislatures and governors, as has swing-state Pennsylvania. And blue Minnesota now has a Republican legislature.
By contrast, some blue states appear determined to spend themselves into bankruptcy. The AP reported on Oct. 16, “Drowning in deficits, Illinois has turned to a deliberate policy of not paying billions of dollars in bills for months at a time.…” So that big tax increase passed by Obama’s home state, which likes to do things the Obama way, didn’t fix the revenue problem. Someone needs to call the president and explain that to him.
And California, another of the bluest states, faces similar problems. Just last year it was handing out IOUs because it couldn’t pay its bills. High taxes and chronic fiscal problems have Golden Staters leaving in droves.
Why won’t some of these blue-state fiscal basket cases learn the lesson that a state can’t tax and spend its way to prosperity? Well, for one thing, many of them have been hoping for a federal bailout—and President Obama tried. A Wall Street Journal article points out that about $200 billion of the president’s misnamed “jobs bill” was little more than a state bailout for teachers and construction workers.
But Republicans are refusing to be complicit in state fiscal irresponsibility. Call it tough love, but blue states will sink or swim on their own.
Many fed-up citizens in those blue states are leaving. But others have decided that if anyone is going to leave, it’s those big-spending politicians who brought on the fiscal disaster. It’s a lesson blue-state politicians better learn: It’s better to be red than dead.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MerrillMatthews