Notes From the Left Coast: California Democrats Need to Raise the Bar on Budget

by on January 12, 2015 · 0 comments

in California, Economy, Health, Labor, Organizing, Politics

DemocraticsStrategies121014By Jim Miller

Last week Eddie Kurtz of the Courage Campaign published a provocative column in the Sacramento Bee in the wake of Governor Brown’s triumphant release of the upcoming budget for the state.

Rather than praising Brown and the state Democrats for being a model for the nation, as many in Democratic circles have been doing, Kurtz took the opportunity to raise the bar of our expectations as he pointed out that:

California is a deep blue state, but too often Democrats are more interested in appeasing corporate lobbyists and the Chamber of Commerce than fighting for families. Of course, the problem goes far beyond California. In Washington, D.C., many Democrats are often just as beholden to corporate power as their Republican counterparts. In fact, without an assist from Democrats in Congress, Republicans could not have gutted a key provision of the 2010 financial reform bill and handed the big banks a horrifying holiday present.

It should be noted that one of the lousy Democrats in question here is San Diego’s own Scott Peters whose vote, for this appalling bipartisan budget at the federal level did too much to hurt the poor to outline here. But, I digress as Kurtz’s main focus is on the Democrats in state office.

The Courage Campaign has been critical of Brown arguing that while he has done a “heroic job” of bringing the state back from the budget cliff, “much to our dismay, his proposed budget has prioritized savings for a rainy-day, even though the economic storm that began in 2008 is still raging on families across the state. California continues to have the highest poverty rate in the nation and this budget fails to prioritize the nearly nine million Californians struggling to make ends meet everyday.”

Kurtz goes on to observe that despite California’s liberal reputation, it is far from immune to the same plutocratic interests that are holding sway across much of the rest of the country. More specifically, he notes that, “the California Legislature doesn’t even have a progressive caucus. In this famously liberal state, is there no leader willing to cut through the doublespeak and explain the poor choices our politicians are making, often selling out the lower and middle classes for corporate benefit?”

And he’s right. Counter to California’s left-leaning reputation, the Brown administration is not progressive to the bone and “the current ‘California comeback’ is deeply inadequate.” As I have noted here, Brown is a fence sitter, straddling the divide between the progressive and business wings of the party. And the business wing of the Democratic Party has been greatly strengthened by our new primary system as many corporate interests have astutely decided that in deep blue California it’s easier to buy a Democrat than win with a Republican.

In addition to this emerging landscape, Brown is notoriously stingy with regard to the budget and while fans of fiscal discipline and austerity are happy with this, many who work for social justice in the state are frequently not. Simply put, Brown can be bold one moment and shortsighted the next, and his idiosyncratic rule has done little to address our state’s deeply entrenched poverty and/or address long-term educational or infrastructural needs.

California has no Elizabeth Warren or anybody even close to having what it takes to raise the bar. Time for somebody to step up.

Let me put it this way, California Democrats have been good at doing a lot of very small things for working folks and rolling them out like it’s the next incarnation of the New Deal. Good public relations perhaps, but not heroic policy or even close to enough to start to address our historic level of economic inequality. And the more we let that fester, the more the historic base of the Democratic Party erodes and perhaps some day, will fail to show up for them even here on the left coast.

Take the issue of revenue. With Proposition 30, Brown was able to stop the bleeding in California, but not enough to restore what had been lost after over a decade of cuts to all levels of education and social services—and it was temporary. So one of the big looming questions for the Democrats that they don’t want to address is whether they should extend Proposition 30 or look to a split roll on Proposition 13 that would leave individual home owners alone while reassessing the rates for commercial property owners and bring in billions of dollars of revenue to help fund the future and perhaps more adequately address the needs of working Californians.

Something like that, in addition to an oil severance tax, might really put California in the position to lead again in the way that the Governor likes to talk about. Without such action, he’ll leave a legacy of new debt and more budget cuts for those who follow him.

But to take that one on would require real political courage and standing up to the corporate interests that will fight any such efforts tooth and nail. So far, no one in super liberal California seems willing to lead that fight or any of the other big issues like how to move away from the prison industrial complex or guide a truly game-changing climate policy against the powerful interests that will oppose it.

Kurtz is right. California has no Elizabeth Warren or anybody even close to having what it takes to raise the bar. Time for somebody to step up.

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