ELIZANDRO: Even the economy’s bigger in Texas

John Elizandro

A walk up Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan today is a disconcerting experience. It’s nearly impossible to travel more than a block or two without encountering boarded up shops and vacated stores in what is usually among the most expensive retail space on Earth. New York is the epicenter of our economic debacle, and the damage is most obvious in the countless stores and restaurants that have shut their doors for good.

California is the most dysfunctional state in the country. The “liberal paradise” has astronomical taxes, severe unemployment, a massive and cumbersome state bureaucracy and an enormous budget deficit. Detroit, once the proud heart of American industry, is a ghost town. The high taxes in Michigan and the dominant control of the labor unions have sent employers fleeing in droves.

Though the entire country is reeling from the recession, some parts were spared the worst of the downturn. My mother and sister recently relocated from the northeast to Houston, and I spent most of the summer enduring the sweltering Texas heat. What surprised me the most – other than the fact that apparently not everyone in Texas wears a cowboy hat and boots-was how incredibly strong the economy is all across the state.

Some businesses in Texas are even thriving. Unemployment is well below the levels in Michigan or California. While most states are near bankruptcy, Texas has a budget surplus. More Fortune 500 Companies are based in Texas than any other state. The triangle formed by Dallas, Houston and San Antonio is the fastest-growing region in the country. Texas created more jobs last year than all the other states combined.

So what’s the state government in Austin doing that keeps their economy so strong? Not much. But Texas’ governor, Rick Perry, would tell you that “not much” is exactly the reason Texas has avoided the agony of the recession.

Texas’ legislature doesn’t work very hard – they are only in session about half a year every two years. But this is a feature, not a bug. It appears that the more time politicians spend trying to “fix” the economy, the more screwed up it becomes. In California and New York, you can pay as much as 10 percent of your income in state taxes, and that’s on top of your federal tax bill. Texas, however, has no state income tax at all.

There are far fewer costly regulations that businesses must comply with, and there are fewer draconian zoning laws that artificially inflate real estate prices. Housing is affordable. What you would pay for a closet in New York’s Upper East Side would get you a medium-sized single family home in Houston.

But Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on pro-growth economic policy. Along the drive back to school at the end of the summer, we encountered enormous brand-new automobile factories built by companies like Hyundai and Kia in Georgia and North Carolina. These companies chose to avoid the high taxes and stifling regulations that make Detroit an economic graveyard.

The strategy for bringing our economy out of this mess seems obvious, but somehow Obama has concluded that the best way to help local economies plagued by high taxes and excessive regulations is by raising taxes and adding regulations. The out-of-control spending in Washington has already put us trillions of dollars into debt, and that’s before you count the costs of any of the health care schemes being debated now.

The question America must ask itself is simple. Do we, as a nation, really want to go down the road of New York and Detroit? Is the model of high taxes, high spending and a huge bureaucracy that companies are so desperately fleeing the model that will most quickly lift us out of this recession? Clearly, the answer is no. Texas’ low taxes and business-friendliness have helped them avoid the most painful effects of the downturn. America’s best hope to escape this recession is to emulate the Lonestar State.

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John Elizandro is a sophomore business major from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]