Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump
Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.
Ready for another year? Follow along here.
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León is proposing an end run for Californians to deduct the full value of their state and local taxes from their federal tax bills.
De León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, introduced SB 227, which would allow taxpayers to make charitable deductions to the state and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the full amount of their contribution.
Because charitable contributions are fully deductible, this would allow California taxpayers to sidestep the new $10,000 federal cap on state and local tax deductions.
“The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in announcing his legislation. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” He noted that the bill is modeled after existing laws that provide tax credits on charitable donations made to state college affordability grants, such as the Cal Grant program.
His Republican counterparts are instead calling for a lowering California’s personal income tax rates.
Announcing my state tax cut proposal for CA middle class families and small businesses! This lowers the state’s tax burden without gimmicks. https://t.co/htdMGUsRfZ
A resolution declaring the California Legislature’s opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil drilling, shouldn’t, on the face of it, be very controversial. The vast majority of Californians oppose drilling off the state’s coast. And a resolution doesn’t actually change the law anyway—it’s just a formal way to state an opinion.
But never underestimate the potential for politics to rear its head.
After news broke earlier this month that the federal government would exempt Florida from its plans to expand offshore drilling—widely seen as a move by the Republican administration to favor a state with a Republican governor—a GOP assemblywoman in California drafted a resolution saying that California wanted the same treatment.
“Protecting our California coastline has had bipartisan support for decades, and I think it’s much more impactful when someone from the same party is willing to bring colleagues together and say, ‘No. We think you should leave our coastline protected,’” said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin.
Though Baker is a Republican, most voters in her suburban East Bay district are Democrats. Unsurprisingly, Democrats have been trying for a few years to snag her seat. They’re trying again this year—and the Assembly Democrats’ political consultant quickly seized on Baker’s resolution.
“There is no way Dems should allow Baker, who has a failing 42 percent grade on the Sierra Club Legislative Scorecard, to be a fake face of the state’s resistance against the Trump Administration’s rollback of protections of our coast,” political consultant Bill Wong wrote in an email to the Democratic caucus. “Dems should introduce their own legislation and denounce the Baker resolution as a deceptive effort to fool voters in her district.”
Wong said he sent the email because he didn’t want “Democrats to validate her lackluster record, her misrepresentation of her environmental record.” (It’s true that Baker earned a 42 percent score from the Sierra Club last year. It’s also true that she was among a handful of Republicans who voted to extend California’s cap-and-trade program last year, and was the sole Republican who voted in 2016 to mandate that the state drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.)
Sure enough, four days after Baker’s resolution was introduced, four Democrats introduced a similar resolution. The lead author, Assemblywoman Monique Limon of Santa Barbara, said she and her Democratic colleagues had announced their plans to draft a resolution before Baker introduced her version.
“Hers may have crossed the desk first,” Limon said. “But we made it very public to all our colleagues that this is something we wanted to work on.”
Baker said she was rebuffed when she asked last week if she could be included as a co-author on the Democrats’ resolution. But the tiff seems to have resolved after CALmatters began making inquiries. Now both resolutions, which are procedurally different, will have Baker and Limon as bipartisan co-authors.
A federal judge in California has blocked deportation of participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allowing those whose legal status has expired to apply for renewal until a court challenge of the Trump administration’s cancellation of the program is resolved.
The injunction essentially pauses a Trump plan to end DACA, which provides 2-year work permits and protection from removal for some young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with other attorneys general and the University of California, asked for the injunction in November while the underlying court case moves forward.
“Dreamers’ lives were thrown into chaos when the Trump administration tried to terminate the DACA program without obeying the law,” Becerra said. The “ruling is a huge step in the right direction.”
U.S. District Judge William Alsup found that harm would be done if termination of the program began and that the public interest is better served by waiting until the case is decided. Alsup said Washington’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and could result in a successful challenge. He wrote: “Plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated that they are likely to suffer serious irreparable harm absent an injunction.”
The White House pushed back, calling the injunction “outrageous.”
On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be terminated in March. The judge’s ruling allows anyone who had DACA status as of that date to submit a renewal application.
Advocates for immigrants are now scrambling to find out when they can begin to re-apply and said it would be up to the Department of Homeland Security.
There are about 690,000 DACA recipients, about 200,000 of them in California.
Becerra said the ruling could give Congress more leverage to try to get DACA renewed without burdening a proposal with compromises that Trump wants, such as a border wall or more border security.
The Trump administration has begun the process of opening virtually the entire U.S. coastline to oil and gas drilling, making good on a campaign promise to exploit the country’s troves of offshore energy.
The Interior Department unveiled a five-year plan to establish lease sales in federal waters off the outer continental shelf, including parcels where drilling has been banned for decades. That includes the California coast.
The plan, announced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, envisions drilling in the Arctic, off the Hawaiian coast and in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as expanding existing exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The leasing will begin in 2019 off the north coast of Alaska then move to the lower 48 states, the agency said.
Zinke told reporters on a conference call that the leasing process would expand the country’s energy independence, a policy emphasis that the agency has already made a priority on public lands. “This is the beginning of an opening up,” he said, promising that the months-long public comment period before enactment would include all stakeholders. “The states will have a voice.”
California has already been heard on this topic, loudly and often, and weighed in again today.
“Drilling off the shores of California’s coast is a non-starter,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Our state has banned offshore drilling for a reason: because we don’t want it and because we know what happens when it goes wrong. We are evaluating all of our options to protect our state’s pristine national resources. And it should be underscored that regulatory agencies in our state will have a say in whether any offshore drilling ultimately does occur.”
The last time federal oil leases were offered off California was in 1984, and the region was not included in leasing plans under the Obama administration. There has been no leasing in state waters since 1969. State officials have long sought to permanently ban offshore drilling there.
On one hand, California’s protestations are sound and fury: The state has no jurisdiction over federal waters, which begin three miles off the coast. On the other hand, the state could thwart the intent of the plan by making it more expensive to get the oil to land from offshore rigs.
A bill that would prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving any new infrastructure that supports offshore oil and gas development died in the Legislature last year, but the agency issued a resolution that achieved much the same result.
“California’s door is closed to President Trump’s Pacific oil and gas drilling,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who chairs the Lands Commission and is running for governor, said at the time.
Offshore rigs generally pump crude through submerged pipelines to onshore receiving facilities, joining an extensive network of pipelines that move the oil to storage sites and refineries. While not stopping the drilling outright, the state’s regulations would make it more expensive for companies to operate. That could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.
Zinke’s announcement came a day after the administration proposed to roll back Obama-era regulations put in place after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 that more strictly regulated offshore drilling operations.
Many Californians still have memories of a massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that despoiled beaches and killed wildlife. The area was hit again in 2015, when a pipeline failure sent more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil onto the beach at Refugio State Park.