Column: What Newsom didn’t mention: To address homelessness in California, a tax hike is inevitable
OK, I’m waiting to hear about the tax increase that will be needed to pay for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ambitious plan to solve homelessness.
A tax hike is inevitable, but the T-word was conspicuously missing from Newsom’s frequently applauded State of the State address on Wednesday to a joint session of the California Legislature, which is tightly controlled by fellow Democrats.
Not that a tax increase wouldn’t be justified to remedy what Newsom correctly called “a disgrace” in the richest state of the richest nation. But that would depend on details — about who gets taxed and how the money is spent — and probably require a special interest-sponsored ballot initiative.
For the Legislature to place a measure on this November’s ballot or to raise taxes on its own would require a two-thirds majority vote. And that’s not likely to happen, especially in an election year.
“There are 1.6 million fewer Californians living in poverty today than in 2011,” Newsom said, “but no amount of progress can camouflage the most pernicious crisis in our midst, the ultimate manifestation of poverty, screaming for our attention: homelessness….
“As Californians, we pride ourselves on our unwavering sense of compassion and justice for humankind. But there’s nothing compassionate about allowing fellow Californians to live on the streets, huddled in cars or makeshift encampments.”
The governor received a standing ovation with cheers for that line.
“The problem has persisted for decades — caused by massive failures in our mental health system and disinvestment in our social safety net, exacerbated by widening income equality and California’s housing shortage.
“The hard truth is we ignored the problem.”
And Newsom went on like that for several hundred words, redundantly reciting the problem and scolding everyone for averting their eyes — or at least trying to.
Then deep into the speech, he tucked in a vague allusion to taxes:
“The public has lost patience, you have all lost patience and I’ve lost patience,” he said. “To reverse decades of neglect and turn around a crisis this deep-rooted, we’re also going to need more than one-time funding. We need significantly sustainable revenue. It’s the truth. I know this is always the toughest thing….
“I pledge to work closely with you to identify this ongoing revenue to provide the safer, cleaner streets our communities deserve. It’s time to muster the political will to meet the moment. The people of California are demanding bold, permanent solutions….
“In order to get the job done, we’ve got to match this new money with a new legal obligation to address this crisis head on [while] requiring that our new funding isn’t replacing existing spending but creating new solutions.”
Check the code words: “sustainable revenue,” “ongoing revenue,” “new money” that “isn’t replacing existing spending.” That’s a roundabout way of spelling T-A-X.
There’s no way to acquire new money that’s ongoing and doesn’t replace existing spending without raising taxes.
I can’t see the governor and Legislature raising taxes on everyone, particularly the middle class. There’s talk of once again slamming million-dollar earners, who are already paying by far the highest state income tax rate in the nation: 13.3%. Hey, good thinking. Drive more job producers out of the Golden State.
Homelessness is everyone’s problem. And if higher taxes are needed — and maybe they are, but it’s yet to be proved — then all of us should pay for it. Targeting the rich is cowardly.
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) plans to introduce legislation that would allocate $2 billion a year to fight homelessness. But he hasn’t identified the money source.
Meanwhile, there’s growing criticism in the Capitol about how money is being spent to combat homelessness, and it’s not coming mainly from Republicans.
Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco this week advocated a hard look at homelessness spending.
“No one today can tell me how much money is being spent on homelessness in California on all levels,” the legislator complained.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) reported Wednesday that “we have set aside $7 billion for housing solutions in recent years.”
This year, Newsom has proposed spending an additional $750 million to move homeless people into shelters. He’s also asking for nearly $700 million to expand homeless services under Medi-Cal, the healthcare program for the poor. That’s on top of the $1 billion the state has already been doling out to address homelessness.
Recently, the nonpartisan legislative analyst criticized Newsom’s budget proposal on homelessness, asserting it “falls short of articulating a clear strategy.”
That presumably was what the governor’s State of the State address was all about.
“We will reduce street homelessness quickly and humanely through emergency actions,” Newsom vowed.
“We will be laser-focused on getting the mentally ill out of tents and into treatment. We will provide stable funding to get sustainable results. We will tackle the underproduction of affordable housing. And we will do all of this with real accountability and real consequences.”
And they will raise taxes. But that wasn’t said.