California’s Progressives Are Losing Ground Despite Having a Democratic Supermajority


California appears to be an extremely blue state where Democrats control almost every political lever, including three-fourths of the Legislature’s seats and all statewide posts.

The progressives, who want to transform California into a model of economic and social equality with a wide range of free or inexpensive services, from universal health care and family income supports to child care and higher education, are currently the most frustrated political bloc in California.

When California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, who is regarded as the most progressive in history, boasted about a $97 billion budget surplus and approved the expansion of child care, health coverage for undocumented immigrants, and other progressive agenda items last year, it appeared that the movement was making some progress.

Most likely, it was a brief moment.

Since then, the enormous surplus has turned into an enormous deficit (estimated by the Legislature’s budget expert at $68 billion), and Newsom has been veering toward the political center to raise his profile nationally.

These days, he speaks much more about combating street crime than he did about his 2018 campaign promise to implement single-payer healthcare for the entire state.

Even with a state government that appears to be full of outspoken allies, progressive groups are already complaining that they have not been able to achieve their many objectives and raising the alarm about losing ground.

“What is causing us to fall short?” In a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, Dr. Manual Pastor of USC’s Equity Research Institute stated that the goal was to create a new coalition of progressive organizations to advocate for change.

Henry A.J. Ramos, a senior fellow of the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy, declared, “This is the work of our generation.”

“While solidly Democratic, California still hasn’t lived up to its progressive reputation in terms of real policy change,” Ramos and another seminar attendee, attorney and organizer Robb Smith, wrote a few months ago in Capitol Weekly.

“Why not, with such a large pool of left-wing voters?” Because achieving long-overdue social and economic justice reforms in our state would necessitate a much stronger focus on mobilizing voters to first support structural changes in state governance.”

The term “structural changes” refers to fighting state regulations, some of which are in the constitution, that make it difficult to raise taxes necessary to fund the movement’s program, even if the state does not have a large budget shortfall.

The same complaint can be heard in another appeal this week from the California Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, which backed the state’s initial efforts to improve poor families’ earnings by providing them with refundable state tax credits.

The organization urged legislators to retain the tax credit and other programs that help disadvantaged families while dealing with the state’s massive budget imbalance – even if it means hiking taxes. Senate Bill 220, which would raise corporate income taxes, is particularly supported by the coalition.

Legislative leaders have provided pro forma guarantees that critical programs will be protected as they cope not just with the $68 billion current deficit but also with estimates of multibillion-dollar shortfalls in the coming years. However, something will have to give unless progressives can generate the resolve to hike taxes on businesses and the wealthy.

As he attempts to soften his national image, Newsom has adopted a no-new-taxes slogan, but he also opposes a business-backed ballot initiative set for the November 2024 ballot that would make it even more difficult to raise local and state taxes. Its passage would be the ultimate stumbling block for progressives who are already frustrated.

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