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Don't mess around with Texas — just move back to California

The Hill logo The Hill 7/18/2021 Joe Ferullo, opinion contributor
a group of people riding skis on a snowy city street: Snow covers Austin, Texas © Getty Images Snow covers Austin, Texas

Californians have been moving to Texas in something like a mass migration. More than 80,000 - many working in the high-tech sector - relocated there in 2019 alone. Dozens of California-grown companies such as Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Tesla moved with them.

But given the news out of Texas these days, we in California are starting to think: Maybe those people want to come back home now. After all, many firms and their workers settled down in the Lone Star State in search of a better "quality of life." You have to wonder how that's working out for them.

About 50 Texas Democratic legislators actually migrated out of their home state last week and are living temporarily in Washington, D.C. - part of a last-ditch effort to stop new voting restrictions from becoming law. But there's no question that those ballot constraints will be pushed through by the state GOP, even though a study last year already judged Texas to be the nation's hardest state in which to vote.

That bill is just the most recent in a list of measures passed this year by the state legislature that seem in conflict with the cutting-edge image of those California-bred high-tech companies now calling Texas home. Among the most controversial: a law that allows adults to carry handguns without licenses or permits. The new rules even allow Texans to carry those guns into public governmental meetings.

The state also just outlawed abortion at the six-week mark. It then deputized ordinary citizens - even someone living outside Texas - to report lawbreakers. People can claim a $10,000 reward for each confirmed illegal abortion reported.

More measures may be coming in the current special session called by the governor. The Republican-dominated legislature is set to consider - and likely pass - proposals that address social media censorship, critical race theory and limited access to sports teams for transgender students.

Maybe these all qualify as the kind of quality-of-life issues that drew California tech firms to the state. But it's also possible those companies and their employees are actually thinking a bit more about the state's power grid.

It failed three times back in February, resulting in shortages of water, food and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses went without power, and at least 151 deaths were attributed to the outages. But fixing the grid is not on the Texas legislative agenda this month.

Other than a bill to restrict bail, crime doesn't appear to be a priority, either. Fear of rising crime in San Francisco and Los Angeles was most likely one of those quality-of-life issues that helped propel Silicon Valley firms to move. Many relocated to Austin, home to most Texas high-tech jobs.

These new residents were probably surprised to see Austin suffer a 500 percent increase in murders this past April. So far this year, crime is up 53 percent from 2020 - when the hike in Austin's murder rate was the highest in the country. (Reminder: Texas adults can now carry guns without a license.)

Mission statements from technology companies are filled with notions of making lives better, changing the world, helping their workers and increasing human connections. It's hard to see how current events and new laws in Texas fit in with those lofty visions.

It might be time for Big Tech to pull out those mission statements from the bottom drawer, read them again and think about what's happening in their adopted home far from the Pacific coast.

But even if executives do all that, Californians shouldn't hold their breath, waiting for a reverse migration back to the West. That's because the true bottom line in high tech - noble words aside - is the same as in any other business: money.

The minimum wage is $14 an hour in California, $16.07 in San Francisco. In Texas, it's $7.25. That keeps wages down throughout the salary ladder. According to an NBC News report, this means companies moving to Texas can pay workers less, hand out fewer raises and boost profits. The network adds that these moves "could represent long-term corporate cost savings, which means larger payouts ... to top executives."

Count on those executives to hold tight, right where they are, no matter what their mission statements say or what the Texas legislature does.

There is one consolation prize for California: those 50 Democrats looking to escape Texas. While they seem to be trying to get some real work done in Washington, they might want to head to the coast instead. They can visit Disneyland and our beaches.

Why not? They've had a tough year back in Texas.

Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and journalist and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was a news executive for NBC, a writer-producer for "Dateline NBC" and worked for ABC News. Follow him on Twitter @ironworker1.

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