That’s often Gov. Gavin Newsom’s view of the Lone Star State, a place he likes to chide for its tax burden, abortion restrictions, gun laws and more.
So is California a better place to live?
There’s no easy answer.
California ranked second in WalletHub’s 2022 “best states to live in” index. The financial services firm gave Texas the 11th place slot. New York was first, and Alaska was last.
The index considers 16 factors, including weather, average hours worked per week, quality of roads and commute time. It also looks at the number of fitness centers, movies, bars, restaurants and theaters per capita.
“Putting aside the cost and scarcity of land, which is a huge problem in California, it’s a very appealing place to live,” said Adam Kamins, director of regional economics at Moody’s Analytics.
The Moody’s quality of life survey is based on four categories: natural amenities, child poverty, recreation and walkability.
California scores especially well in the first category, which is also the most heavily weighted given its relationship with desirability, measured by the premium that homebuyers are willing to pay to move to an area. Pleasant weather year-round, plentiful access to bodies of water and its mountainous topography all contribute to the Golden State’s ranking. Large, coastal metro areas in the state also benefit from ample access to recreational activities.
But in Texas, Waco-based economist Ray Perryman saw his state becoming increasingly attractive. “The bottom line is that there are significant challenges facing California including slower growth and the large numbers of people and companies leaving the state,” he said. “By contrast, Texas continues to build momentum.”
“Although Texas is more affordable in general, California has lower median annual property taxes, as well as a higher median annual household income,” said Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst.
Gonzalez cited several other factors that put California ahead of Texas:
▪ Overall quality of life. WalletHub found Californians work fewer hours weekly, enjoy more miles of trails for biking and walking per total state land area and have better access to public transportation.
▪ Culture. “There are also more museums, performing arts centers and fitness centers per capita in California,” Gonzalez said.
Don’t forget overall happiness. WalletHub rated California the home of the seventh happiest people in America. Ratings took into account emotional and physical well-being, work environment and community and environment, which includes factors such as volunteerism and weather.
Texas’ population is booming, and a big reason is that “This is a business friendly state with the resources companies need for success such as a large and growing workforce,” Perryman said. “California certainly has been successful over the years, but is not presently keeping pace.”
In the fall quarter of 2022, the latest data available, personal income in Texas was up at an annual rate 6.9% over the summer quarter, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis found. California’s figure was 5.2%. Big reason for Texas’ gains was higher earnings among those in professional, scientific, and technical services.
California’s economy has grown steadily, though, and is now poised to become the world’s fourth largest. But while the numbers of California’s technology jobs has grown, employment in the leisure and hospitality is still below the level of jobs in that area in February 2020, just before the 2020 Covid pandemic.
Texas also has a far more favorable 2023 business climate, according to the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group. It ranked Texas’ climate 13th in the country, while California was 48th. California’s corporate, sales and income taxes all contributed to its low ranking.
WalletHub last year compared different taxes, and found California had the nation’s ninth highest tax burden, while Texas ranked 34th. Newsom in January said 95% of Texans pay higher taxes than Californians. The Bee found that statement could not be independently verified.
Experts, though, warn that someone’s tax liability depends on many factors, such as whether they own a home, their salary, how much fuel they use when driving, the value of any property and so on.
California vs. Texas
Ultimately the California vs. Texas debate comes down to what any individual wants.
For instance, how does someone feel about gun rights? After signing a tough gun control law last year, Newsom last year ran an ad in three Texas newspapers that took Gov. Greg Abbott’s statement on abortion and replaced the word “abortion” with “gun violence” and “Texas” with “California.”
“Our Creator endowed us with the right to life,” the ad said. And yet… children lose their right to life every year because of gun violence. In California, we work to save those lives.” the ad said.
But after mass shootings in California in January, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted a headline from the New York Times: “California Has More Than 100 Gun Laws. Why Don’t They Stop More Mass Shootings?” Newsom replied that Texas in a tweet that Texas’ gun death rates is far higher than in California.
The Centers for Disease Control says that the firearm death rate in California in 2020, the latest data available, was 8.5 per 100,000 people. In Texas the rate was 14.2.
But how important is that to someone choosing where to live? What other factors are involved?
For instance, Kamins says, the California coastline can be very appealing. But how much of a risk do the effects of climate change pose?
The state’s vast tracts of land may be a draw, he said, but what about wildfires?
On the other hand, the Census Bureau reported Texas has 111.6 people per square mile. California has 253.7. Median gross rent in Texas averaged $1,146 from 2017 to 2021. It averaged $1,698 in California.
But another WalletHub survey ranked California number one among states for “family fun,” thanks to its theme parks, national parks, major league and college sports and other amenities.
Then there’s simple geography. “A lot of these factors vary widely from one part of a state to another,” said Kamins. “Austin, Texas, is a much different place than Odessa.”
This story was originally published February 28, 2023, 6:00 AM.
David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He’s been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Maryland; Riverside, California; Annapolis; Baltimore; and, since 1981, Washington.