East vs West / Right vs Left

DeSantis vs. Newsom on Violent Crime

The Editorial Board - WSJ

California Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t running for president in 2024, at least not yet, but he has agreed to a televised Fox News debate Nov 30th next month with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. One worthy topic will be their respective economic records, but they should also spend some time on public safety.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation this week released national statistics on 2022, and the headline was that violent crime fell 1.7%, dipping back to the same level as before the pandemic. But it’s a big country, and those averages don’t tell the whole story. In California violent crime is still up 13% since 2019. In Florida it’s down 31.5%. The rate of violent crime in Mr. Newsom’s state last year, 499.5 per 100,000 people, was nearly double that in Mr. DeSantis’s domain, 258.9 per 100,000.

The nearby chart shows a longer view. Amid the Covid lockdowns, the George Floyd protests, and a public backlash toward law enforcement, violence shot up in Florida, as in many other states, though California stayed on a higher plateau. But the real difference is what happened next: in 2021 and 2022, violent crime plunged in Florida while surging in California. One caveat is that the FBI in 2021 changed its methodology for calculating crime rates, but this affected all states, so it isn’t responsible for the obvious divergence.

Mr. Newsom touts California’s strict gun-control laws, but at least a fifth of its aggravated assaults last year were committed with a knife or blunt object. Many of the state’s violent offenses are perpetrated by mentally ill or drug-addicted people living on the streets. Mr. Newsom himself was assaulted in 2021 by a homeless man in Oakland.

The FBI’s numbers on property crime add to the picture. In Florida such offenses are down 27% since 2019, about three times as much as nationwide, while in California they’re up 0.3%. Those figures likely underestimate the true difference, since businesses are less inclined to report theft to law enforcement in jurisdictions where it often goes unprosecuted.

This could be one reason that the FBI shows larceny as declining in California since 2019, despite all the news reports about retailer complaints and smash-and-grab thefts by organized criminals. California in 2014 effectively decriminalized shoplifting and larceny of less than $950. Police often don’t even bother arresting thieves, because they are quickly released. Also notable is California’s 31.3% jump in auto thefts since 2019. Last year about one in every 200 Californians had a car stolen, three times the rate in Florida and twice that of the U.S. as a whole.

A larger point is that these trend lines are not unconnected: When progressive district attorneys, such as Los Angeles County’s George Gascon, refuse to charge nonviolent crimes, it contributes to an atmosphere of disorder that can result in more bloodshed. Democrats have criticized Mr. DeSantis for removing state attorneys in Orlando and Tampa who failed to go after smaller offenses and enforce mandatory minimum sentences. Yet the Orlando prosecutor had dropped drug charges against a 19-year-old who later allegedly went on a shooting spree that killed three, including a 9-year-old girl.

Public safety is mainly the responsibility of local governments, but state policies and political pressure can also play a big role. Mr. Newsom backed California’s 2014 ballot initiative decriminalizing shoplifting and drug use, and he has done nothing to hold local officials accountable for rising crime. When he meets Mr. DeSantis next month, it would be illuminating to hear how he defends this record. Mr. Newsom isn’t running for President so far, but he is definitely auditioning to be the candidate in waiting.

DeSantis vs. Newsom: a Scorecard

• Employment. Since January 2019, employment has increased by 1,031,030 in Florida while declining by 85,438 in California. Amid Mr. Newsom’s prolonged Covid lockdowns, businesses and workers moved to places with a lower tax burden and cost of living. Florida’s population is 22.2 million and rising, while California’s is 39 million and falling.

• Unemployment. Despite a shrinking labor force, California’s 4.8% jobless rate is the second highest in the country and nearly twice as high as Florida’s (2.8%). California has paid $48.7 billion in unemployment benefits since January 2019—nine times as much as Florida. One reason for the disparity: Fewer Californians are starting businesses.

• Business formation. Florida has received 2.7 million new business applications since January 2019—one for every eight residents—compared to 2.3 million for California, or about one for every 18 residents. Small businesses in California pay a top income-tax rate of 13.3% compared to zero in Florida, contributing to the Golden State’s more onerous business burden.

• Personal income. Business and worker earnings have increased by an annual compounded 7.7% (in current dollars) in Florida since the first quarter of 2019 compared to 5% in California. Had California’s earnings grown at the same rate as Florida’s, the Golden State would be about $255 billion richer and collect tens of billions of dollars in more tax revenue.

• Population migration. Between July 2019 and July 2022—the latest available Census Bureau data—1,044,494 Californians left for other states while 737,433 people on net moved to Florida. According to the latest IRS data, California lost $55.7 billion in adjusted gross income between 2019 and 2021 from population migration while Florida gained $80.6 billion.

• Energy prices. Electricity prices are twice as high in California as in Florida owing to green energy mandates. Californians also pay about $1.80 more per gallon for gasoline on average than Floridians because of higher taxes and climate regulation. Gas prices have increased about 70 cents more per gallon under Mr. Newsom than Mr. DeSantis.

• Taxes and spending. State and local taxes in California add up to $10,167 per capita versus $5,406 in Florida. Higher taxes drive more spending. California spent about $14,755 per capita (including federal dollars) in 2021 compared to $8,816 in Florida.

• Pensions. Public-worker pension payments were $51.2 billion in California last year versus $7.3 billion in Florida. To fund growing pension bills, Californians will have to pay even higher taxes. Each Californian is on the hook for about $18,500 in unfunded pension obligations compared to $5,200 for each Floridian.

• Medicaid. California spends $129.2 billion annually on Medicaid—more than four times as much as Florida ($39.7 billion). California has expanded Medicaid coverage to illegal immigrants under the ages of 26 and over 50. Next year all undocumented immigrants in California will be eligible for Medicaid.

• Homelessness. The federal government counted 171,521 homeless in California last year versus 25,959 in Florida. California’s Prop. 47—which was backed by Mr. Newsom—has effectively decriminalized drug use, making it harder to force addicts on the street into treatment.

• Deficit. Despite its higher taxes, California boasted a $31.5 billion budget shortfall in May while Florida ran a $17.7 billion surplus. Personal income tax collections in California for the current fiscal year that started in July are running about $20 billion below Sacramento’s projections, auguring another large deficit.

• Student learning. California spends about 45% more per pupil on K-12 education than Florida, but its student test scores are significantly lower, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 30% of fourth-graders in California rated proficient in math last year compared to 41% in Florida. California’s prolonged pandemic school shutdowns magnified learning loss.