Quakes? ‘Canes? Why Californians Still Should Envy Virginia


It's been a tough week for the state of Virginia. They got a significant earthquake. They got hammered by Hurricane irene.

Still, Californians might be better off if they were there.

Yes, our weather is better. Yes, our food is better (and more diverse, as I can attest from having spent the weekend with visiting Virginians who were desperate to get authentic Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley).

Yes, we're better looking.

But Virginia is stronger fiscally -- and that makes a huge difference these days.

The state has a budget surplus -- you read that right -- a surplus of more than $550 million.

That reflects a stronger state economy -- one that wasn't as dependent on housing as California's and thus didn't get as slammed by the housing-led panic of the Great Recession. It also reflects the buffeting winds of being so close to Washington DC and its spending.

But the truth is that this isn't a fluke.

Virginia made lists of the best fiscally managed states long before these bad times. Why?

Because Virginia, unlike California, gives its elected officials the discretion and flexibility to make choices, adapt to changing circumstances, and live with the political consequences.

Virginia has almost none of the fiscal rules -- the spending mandates, the tax limitations, the supermajorities -- that make governance in California so difficult.

That's right. There's no Prop 13 -- and yet their taxes are lower than ours.

There's no Prop 98 -- and yet they spend more on schools, and their students do better, than California's.

To listen to conservatives in particular, you'd think that you'd get communism without Prop 13. Virginia gets low taxes, growth and a balanced budget. Where do I sign up for that kind of communism?

But the best thing about being a strong state is that you can manage disasters. Virginia will bounce back quickly from the quake and storms.

By all news accounts, its officials responded quickly. Imagine if California got hit by the natural disaster one-two punch that Virginia experienced.

Do you have confidence in California state officials, operating in a budget crisis, to do everything necessary in terms of emergency response and community rebuilding?

Me neither.

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