Californians now demand a just recovery because income inequality, the housing crisis and a lack of investment in education were made worse by the pandemic.
By Jennifer Martinez and
Jennifer Martinez is the chief strategy officer at PICO California, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Livingston, Special to CalMatters
Christina Livingston is executive director of ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the ACCE Institute, email@example.com.
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We all want to live in a more inclusive and equitable California. But COVID-19 and the movement uprisings have made clear we can’t get there without courageous, visionary leaders.
The U.S. leads the world with more than 160,000 pandemic deaths, exposing the White House’s failure of leadership. But where are our state leaders with a bold plan to ensure California emerges as a stronger, more equitable and prosperous state for all?
Californians demand a just recovery because income inequality, the housing crisis and a lack of investment in education and public transit, alongside an overinvestment in systems of punishment and mass incarceration, made pre-COVID California unlivable for most of us, particularly people of color. These pre-existing conditions were made worse by the pandemic.
Now, a coalition of community and labor organizations, policy advocates, academics and philanthropy leaders representing more than a million Californians has come together as a united front to urge state policymakers to take action now to get to the recovery we desperately need.
We cannot return to the pre-COVID “normal” that placed so little value on human life. Instead, California can and must choose a new path forward that rewrites the public policies that created systemic racism and inequality, leaving Black, Indigenous people, people of color and poor people vulnerable to the pandemic – all while the rich got richer.
A recent report from Americans for Tax Fairness shows California’s 154 billionaires, through their billion-dollar corporations, increased their wealth by more than $175 billion since the pandemic hit in mid-March.
Instead of addressing this corporate wealth grab, our legislators passed a California state budget with billions of dollars in cuts to crucial education, health and human services that are pending, deferred or subject to triggers. Without state leadership, some of these cuts will likely persist, including $1.2 billion in cuts to Medi-Cal, denying health coverage to tens of thousands of low-income seniors.
The Legislature’s recent $100 billion stimulus plan fails to address urgent social and economic needs, forcing the most vulnerable to foot the bill, rather than electing to raise new revenues from viable sources including California’s billionaires.
Our state leaders are showing who they stand with: those who are wealthy.
What could they choose instead?
First, state leaders could choose to explore legislation that prioritizes community needs over corporate profits, such as the Schools and Communities First initiative, put on the ballot as Proposition 15 by more than 1.7 million voters. The state-level legislation would close commercial property tax loopholes and generate $12 billion annually for local government and school districts by requiring corporations to pay their fair share.
Second, state leaders could choose to require California’s billionaires to also pay their fair share through a 1% increase in each of the top three tax brackets and a wealth tax, each of which would yield $7 billion to $10 billion annually. Courageous legislators have introduced these ideas this year but they require the support of legislative leadership.
Third, our state could heed the call of the Black Lives Matter movement and redirect the disproportionate resources that go toward unjustly punishing and incarcerating people and move those resources toward health, education, food, job training and other critical needs.
We need the governor and legislative leadership to make choices. We need them to choose students and teachers and get us back to school safely. We need them to choose renters and small landlords, and ensure we all have a safe place to shelter. We need them to choose essential workers including low-wage workers and immigrants who we depend on for our health and well-being.
A truly equitable California has never existed. But it is on the horizon if we reach for it and compel our leaders to be bold and choose to side with Californians, not a small group of wealthy billionaires and their corporations.
It is time for our state leaders to act courageously to champion the stronger, more equitable and prosperous future we urgently demand and require.
PICO and ACCE are part of a united front of community organizations, labor, policy advocates, academics and philanthropy leaders joining together to demand a just recovery that reverses historical inequities and invests in a collective future that benefits all Californians.