D. Dowd Muska


Don’t Visit the Gulf Coast -- Move There

December 29, 2011

There’s good news, BP wants us to know, about America’s third coast. In a television commercial that aired ubiquitously during the holiday season, the company extolled “the Gulf’s best tourism season in years.” 

The region certainly deserves glad tidings. In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 crewman. The oil flowed for nearly three months, live on webcam. And while the gusher didn’t prove to be the environmental apocalypse eco-loons predicted -- peak-oil nitwit Matt Simmons claimed that the slick would reach Ireland -- wildlife was harmed and water quality degraded.

Twenty months after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, beaches are clean and offshore drillers are returning to work. But if you want to help the Gulf Coast thrive, you can do more than vacation there. Go all in, and make your trip one-way.

Residents of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida enjoy enviously cheap prices. The Council for Community and Economic Research publishes an index of “regional differences in the cost of consumer goods and services.” The average for the 309 urban zones analyzed is set at a value of 100. California and the Northeast, as one would suspect, fare poorly. Too-damn-expensive spots include Manhattan (223.9), San Francisco (161.3), Stamford, Connecticut (148.4), Washington, D.C. (147.5), and Orange County, California (143.5).

The story is quite different in the communities that line the Gulf. Tampa, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, Houston, etc. consistently fall well below 100. So wages may be less generous, but purchasing power is greater.

A prime cause of the Gulf states’ cushy cost of living? Restrained government. “Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom,” a June study by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, examined “policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.” Four of the five Gulf states ranked in the top half, with Florida, at #11, boasting the highest placement. The bottom ten included Big Government-addicted Illinois, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey and (dead-last) New York.

Fewer bureaucrats, NIMBYists, and Nanny Staters make the Gulf states stellar, tax-wise. Texas has the sixth-lowest local-state burden in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, with Louisiana #9, Alabama #11, Mississippi #15, and Florida #20. (It drives revenucrats and class warriors batty, but Texas and Florida refuse to adopt income taxes.)

As for future tax hikes, there is cause for concern, but not alarm. “The Financial State of the States,” issued in July by the Institute for Truth in Accounting (ITA), computed the burden each taxpayer bears for “financial commitments, including all unfunded retirement liabilities,” versus “the assets available to pay these.” At $2,500, Florida was the best performer among the five, with Texas ($5,700) second. The remaining three averaged $14,667. Imposing sums, until you consider the ITA’s worst “sinkhole state.” Connecticut taxpayers each owe $41,200 for the unrealistic commitments made by politicians.

The “Small Business Survival Index,” published annually by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, offers compelling data for start-ups looking for locations. Texas, Florida, and Alabama rank in the top ten. (Mississippi just missed, at #12, while Louisiana landed at #26). All five states, it’s worth noting, have right-to-work statutes that liberate workers from forced union dues.

Big business is coming to the Gulf, too. And it’s not domestic capital alone. A year ago, German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp AG opened a $5 billion steel mill in Mobile County that employs 1,800. (Question for protectionists: Are those “German” jobs or “American” jobs?)

Writing in Forbes earlier this year, Joel Kotkin noted that the widening of the Panama Canal is a “potential game-changer” for what is “destined to emerge as the most economically vibrant of our three coasts.” The expansion project “will open the Gulf to megaships from Pacific Basin ports such as Singapore, Shanghai, Pusan and Kaohsiung, which have mostly sent their cargos to West Coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach. Some analysts predict that more than 25 percent of this traffic could shift to Gulf and South Atlantic ports.” With America’s energy exports (coal, natural gas, and petroleum products) on the rise, ports in Houston, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, New Orleans, Pascagoula, and Tampa will be busier than ever.

As Kotkin put it, “Texas, Louisiana and other Gulf Cities seek to reorder the nation’s economic balance of power. Unless California and the Northeast awaken to the challenge, they will be increasingly supplanted by a region that seems more determined to expand their economic dominion.”

Why not join the fun, and help accelerate the decline of the nation’s stuck-on-stupid blue states?

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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