The golden roads of California



A lot of people who live outside California, particularly snooty folks who hate the liberal agenda out there, love to deride the Golden State as taxed too high and mis-managed. A trip to the Left Coast last week gave me the opposite impression.

The most obvious example is the great state of their highways. Not just the freeways, but the rural two-lane roads as well. We drove hundreds of miles and didn’t ride a mile of bad road. Many appeared to have been re-surfaced with asphalt within the past year or two, and all their highways have center and edge stripes that you can see easily.

We saw these road conditions not only around temperate areas like San Francisco, but also in higher elevations subject to snow and freezing, like Yosemite. The roads were good whether they were heavily travelled or where you only see another car every 10 miles.

The famed California Highway Patrol officers are also evident in all parts of the state, not just the metropolitan freeways, unlike state troopers in Iowa who are 25% below strength because of our state budget cuts.

As for high taxes to support these services, that’s not necessarily the case. Because of Proposition 13, added to the California Constitution in 1978, property taxes are frozen at their 1976 levels, subject to no more than 2% increase per year. Taxes on a property aren’t adjusted until the property is sold. I talked to a man who bought a house for $200,000 in 1988, and it’s worth $2 million today, but his taxes are less than our $150,000 home in Storm Lake because they are frozen at 1988’s valuation. As long as you stay in your home, you are protected from higher taxes, which is great for people living on a fixed income in an area that is rising in property values, such as San Francisco.

It does cost more than a million dollars to buy even a small home in San Francisco, but if you can scrape together the mortgage payment, you can get financing because you are assured that your property will increase in value — short of the Big Earthquake dumping your home in the bay.

Otherwise the cost of living isn’t that much greater in California than the rest of the country, except for gas, because special formulations are required to keep the exhaust clean. Most of the gas prices we saw were in the $3.60 to $4 range, although we paid $6.76 a gallon in Mendocino, the tiny and scenic oceanside enclave two hours north of San Francisco, site of the wedding of my godson, Tony Bedel, to Maryel Ley.

Mary and I drove with Rick and Carol Peterson, winding through eight states and several national parks and scenic vistas along the way. Iowa had the worst roads driving the nearly 4,000 mile trip. Highway 71 from Early to Storm Lake was the worst stretch of the entire journey.

My conclusion is that, from an infrastructure point of view and contrary to popular opinion, California seems better managed than any of the states through which we passed. The Golden State also ran a $30 billion surplus in its 2018 budget, so it can afford to build nice roads, paint stripes on them, and have officers patrol them. All while keeping property taxes to a minimum.

I love Iowa. But we have a lot to learn from the Left Coast.

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