Kelly McParland: Two big U.S. states are in trouble – which could spell trouble for Biden

A wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains burns near homes on Sept. 13, 2020, in Arcadia, Calif. PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES
A wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains burns near homes on Sept. 13, 2020, in Arcadia, Calif. PHOTO BY DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES

Something weird is going on in two of the biggest, most liberal, environmentally-conscious, high-taxing, high-spending, morally upright states in the U.S.

They’re in a mess. And the mess they’re in isn’t helping Joe Biden, the presidential nominee they’d both like to see claim victory in November. Because if New York and California are the Democratic vision of the future, it could be a pretty disquieting future.

Start with California. It appears to be burning to the ground. Even compared with the usual California wildfire seasons, this one is a dilly. A map showing the areas in flame pretty much covers everything in the state that isn’t mountain or desert. Photos of San Francisco look like something out of Dante’s Inferno. The smoke and fire is spreading north into Oregon, where Portland’s air was judged the worst in the World. And everyone who’s on the right side of the climate-change argument wants to blame it on global warming.

Photos of San Francisco look like something out of Dante’s Inferno

They sure have the numbers on their side. NASA says 18 of the hottest 19 years have occurred since 2001. Six of the current blazes are among the biggest in state history. Writers in the Los Angeles Times, a notably “progressive”-minded publication, state unequivocally that “the record heat, fires and pollution all have one thing in common: They were made worse by climate change.”

So, OK, it’s climate change. But wait. California is run by Democrats. The governor, Gavin Newsom, may be the most left-wing environmentally-conscious ever. He succeeded Jerry Brown, who previously could claim that status. The state legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic. California has backed every Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton. It has the most billionaires in the country, and a loud, influential celebrity base that advocates strenuously for every liberal cause that comes down the turnpike. It spends generously, with taxes and living costs so high that more people are now leaving the state than moving in . There are jobs, but people can’t afford to take them.

So what gives? It’s almost as if an activist, free-spending, environmentally-concerned government with full control of the legislature can’t get the job done. Builders are still allowed to construct neighbourhoods in the midst of dangerous fire zones. PG&E, the state’s largest power utility, is blamed for starting some of the worst fires and collapsed into bankruptcy a year ago. The state suffers constant water problems, but hosts some of the country’s biggest water-sucking agriculture industries. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has a mansion in California; his Trump-hating Washington Post says the state “has become a warming, burning, epidemic-challenged and expensive state,” filled with people wondering if nice weather is still worth the effort.

Most Californians aren’t going to vote for Donald Trump in November, but the president flew there on Monday anyway to bash the state and its policies. Trump has been decrying poor forest management for the fires, even though more than half the woodlands are under federal management. Because Trump doesn’t have to make sense to stir the uncertainties of Americans who look at California and wonder whether its approach to government is what they hanker for.

Nor are they necessarily enamoured with New York, which, with California, has some of the highest taxes and firmest Democrat control among the most populous U.S. states. It’s not going up in flames, but its financial crisis is daunting. With a projected budget shortfall of US$14.5 billion this year, the state legislature is clamouring for a wealth tax. New York is home to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, remember — the fiery, hyper-progressive power behind the Democrats’ surging left wing. AOC’s Green New Deal advocates government-guaranteed jobs for everyone in the country, so a wealth tax? Sure, why not? New York has more billionaires than any state except California. How else are you going to pay for this stuff?

Except for one thing. Democrat Andrew Cuomo, into his third term as governor (his father also served three terms) says it won’t work . Rich New Yorkers already pay most of the state’s taxes, and squeezing them for more would do more harm than good, he asserts.

“There is no combination of savings, efficiencies, tax increases that could ever come near covering the deficit,” he said. “I don’t care what you increase taxes to, you couldn’t make up that deficit.”

Wealthy northerners are already relocating to southern states with lower taxes. Florida, with no state income tax, is among the fastest growing, while New York is losing population. Trump’s signature 2017 tax reform bill gleefully skewered New York and other big-spending states by capping the amount in local taxes residents were allowed to deduct from their federal tax bill. Last year he changed his own primary residence from Manhattan to Palm Beach. Cuomo says the only way the state can step back from the brink is with federal assistance, i.e. more money from Donald Trump. Good luck with that. Even a President Biden might resist a bailout, given how many other states would then want to be saved from their own mismanagement, and Biden’s struggle to convince voters he’s not a puppet of AOC and her crew.

The troubles in California and New York are a big reason Trump isn’t out of the contest yet. Voters may find him unpalatable, but they aren’t sure they want the alternative if it means high taxes and ineffective policies fired more by ideology than practicality.

Canadians might also look south and wonder. California has more people than all of Canada. Between them, the two states have 60 million people. If that’s what green economies run by “progressives” fired by visionary ideals and unswerving belief in their own convictions look like, do we want to bet the farm on it? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently does. Feeling lucky?