Almost every day, Governor Gavin Newsom shows up somewhere in California to proclaim, for the umpteenth time, that the state is “coming back in force” after the COVID-19 pandemic.
These highly orchestrated events are billed as official affairs of state, but are in effect just political campaign appearances aimed at persuading voters to support him in the September 14 recall election, mainly by touting one of the multibillion-dollar gifts in his new state. budget.
“As the state roars back from the pandemic, we are laser-focused on getting this assistance out as quickly as possible and providing support at all levels to help Californians get back on their feet,” Newsom said during a stop in Southern California last week to highlight a new program to pay overdue rents.
One could conclude that Newsom, by distributing money from an unexpected windfall of income, is trying to buy votes with taxpayers’ money.
The first is that a blatant campaign under the guise of official business is disreputable. While not uncommon in other states, so far California governors have been meticulous enough to separate official business from their re-election campaign events.
The second is that by spending so much money so quickly, Newsom can put the state’s fiscal health at risk. His predecessor, Jerry Brown, who preached frugality and feared launching new programs that could get out of hand, warned of the danger in a TV interview this month.
Brown said the state would face “fiscal stresses” in the coming years as revenues return to more normal levels. “The word is volatility,” Brown said. “The money comes and the money goes. The federal government is getting more and more into debt, it is spending money wildly. The state is now spending money. It is not sustainable. “
Brown noted that the state is heavily dependent on a relative handful of high-income taxpayers for its income, saying, “The growing total inequality of the economy because the rich make so much money and California taxes the disproportionately rich… we need a more frugal, sustainable and prudent way of doing business.
Finally, Newsom’s ‘turning back’ mantra avoids the very real socio-economic problems of the state which, if any, worsened during the pandemic. California still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country with over a million unemployed. We had the highest level of poverty in the country before the pandemic and it has surely increased.
The main driver of high poverty in California is the state’s very high cost of living, especially for housing, but also for other necessities, such as gasoline and utilities.
Newsom’s short-term responses are unsustainable
Newsom has offered only token and / or short-term responses to these costs, such as assistance with rent and utility bills and cash payments to low-income families who, as Brown warns, do not. probably cannot be maintained.
The state’s housing shortage continues to put upward pressure on rents and house prices, and Newsom’s $ 3.5 billion new budget for affordable housing would build fewer than 10,000 units in a state that has at least 80,000 units below its own housing quotas each year.
Key to the housing dilemma is making California more attractive for private investment, but Newsom and lawmakers have dodged tough policy choices to encourage such investment, such as reforming the California Environmental Quality Act and rejecting union efforts of construction to claim jurisdiction over housing projects. .
California will truly come back when unemployment goes down, housing construction goes up, the poverty rate goes down, and educational outcomes go up. Until then, this is just a campaign slogan.
CalMatters is a public service journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters go to calmatters.org/comment.