What the numbers really say about Texas versus California 

California Gov. Jerry Brown made an appearance in Santa Clara this week as the Texas-based Dell computer company broke ground for a new research and development center. The symbolism was unmistakable.

With California’s economy stuck in a recessionary trough, critics have been drawing contrasts with Texas, its economic, cultural and political rival to the east, so Dell’s project is an anecdotal antidote.

It “exemplifies the tremendous dynamism of the California economy,” Brown said. “We continue to be a place of pioneers, of people who have left one place because they want to make something better, and that’s the genius of California.”

One small corporate project does not mean anything other than demonstrating how desperate Brown and other politicians are to find economic silver linings. Nor does it tell us whether California or Texas represents the more viable model in a global economy.

So what do we know? We know that California’s unemployment rate is stuck at 12 percent, second highest in the nation, while Texas’ jobless rate is nearly one-third lower and about one percentage point below the national rate.

We know that Texas’ tax burden (it doesn’t have a personal income tax) is one of the nation’s lowest and about a third lower than California’s, one of the nation’s highest.

According to the Census Bureau, California’s per-pupil spending on K-12 education is slightly below the national average while Texas’ is 15 percent below.

But Texas also spends proportionately a fraction of what California does on prisons. One reason: California prison guards’ salaries are twice as high.

The Census Bureau also reports that Texas’ poverty rate is two percentage points higher than California’s, but California’s welfare dependency rate is much higher than the national rate while that of Texas is noticeably lower.

The Tax Foundation rates Texas, on a variety of issues, as having the nation’s 13th best business climate and California the 49th, ahead of only New York. But New York is home to 57 Fortune 500 companies, followed by 53 in California and 51 in Texas.

Let’s close with some personal observations, based on several visits to Texas, including a five-day sojourn in South Texas this month.

South Texas cities such as San Antonio and Austin do not exude recession, as do California’s cities. There are few vacant stores, and retail, dining and entertainment venues are hopping.

The Texas oil industry is booming and hungry for workers.

Texas highways are wide, smoothly paved and well maintained, in stark contrast with California’s congested and deteriorating roadways, even though our fuel taxes are nearly twice as high.

But when it comes to climate and physical beauty, Texas can’t hold a candle to California.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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