The pandemic has taught us one transformative lesson: We can work from anywhere. Tired of the expense and inconvenience of New York, San Francisco or Chicago? Sell your overpriced little dump, buy a luxurious spread in Colorado Springs, Austin or Tampa with the proceeds and live happily ever after!
It’s a compelling message, but an incomplete one. If working at home is so great, why haven’t we all done it sooner? The pandemic is a pain, Zoom is somewhere between tedious and awful and forced isolation from our peers diminishes and narrows our lives. Yet the exodus from California and New York is likely to continue for reasons that have little to do with COVID-19.
Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a lengthy piece about the migration of techies to Miami. I was surprised, still thinking of the city that I fled 40 years ago for Colorado Springs.
In those days, we used to joke that Miami was the most crime-free city in Latin America.
“We had about 580 murders last year ,” a journalist told me in early 1981,”but that’s not even close. John, this goddamn city is just a sand spit between the ocean and the swamp — the pros get rid of the stiffs. The ones we know about are amateurs who were too lazy to clean up their mess.” And not only that, the summers were hot, buggy and humid and we had kids to raise — so we left.
Today’s sparkling city by the (Biscayne) Bay is safe, beautiful and welcoming. Here’s what Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told the Times.
“For them [tech executives] to hear an elected official saying ‘Hey, we want you, hey we appreciate you’ — I didn’t realize what a sensitive moment it was in terms of how people felt they were being treated by the governments where they lived.”
Suarez is a pro-business Republican, a refreshing novelty to businesspeople and entrepreneurs fleeing from cities run by deep blue Democrats. Their dissatisfaction is perhaps less ideological than practical — they know how to predict the future viability of enterprises, and they want to live well.
Can’t you live well in California? Sure, if you don’t mind some of the highest taxes in the nation (8.66 percent sales tax, 8.84 percent corporate income tax, and 63 cents per gallon gas tax), tens of thousands of homeless folks living on the streets of L.A. and San Francisco, permanently clogged freeways, fierce droughts and fiercer fires.
These problems aren’t going away, and as the Times’ Bret Stephens pointed out in a column on Feb. 1, the future isn’t particularly bright: “As of 2019, the state had an estimated $70 billion in deferred maintenance backlog. Debt? The state’s unfunded pension liabilities in 2019 ran north of $1.1 trillion, according to an analysis by Stanford professor Joe Nation, or $81,300 per household.”
By contrast, Colorado PERA’s unfunded pension obligations are around $54 billion using Nation’s market rate return assumptions — 5 percent of California’s. PERA’s more optimistic assumptions put the unfunded obligation at $29.8 billion. Colorado’s state income tax is a flat 4.63 percent, while California starts low (1 percent, if you make $8,932 or less), leaps quickly to 9.3 percent at $56,384, and finally plateaus at 13.3 percent if you make a million or more. Adding insult to injury, San Francisco imposes a 1.5 percent income tax on residents, sharing that dubious distinction with New York City, which collects 3.8 percent from everyone who makes more than $12,000.
In sum: You make money, you pay a lot, and your daily life isn’t great. The goal of the Democratic left is to stick it to the rich, while Florida and Texas welcome them with low taxes and conservative governance.
Ours is a conservative city, but what about our bright blue state legislature? They seem eager to create expensive new programs ($15 minimum wage? state-funded public health option?), even though voters passed an income tax reduction in November.
To grab our share of burnt-out California techies, we need more Republican elected officials like Mayor John Suthers and Rep. Mike Coffman, fewer pseudo-conservative wingnuts and a thoughtful Democratic majority in the Capitol.
Noting that California is a “perfect laboratory for liberal governance,” Bret Stephens offered some advice.
“Like Republicans, Democrats do best when they govern from the center. Forget California, think Colorado.” Good advice, Tony Exum, Pete Lee, Marc Snyder and Gov. Jared Polis…