The first budget proposal of California’s freshly sworn-in governor Gavin Newsom seeks to “make the California dream available to all”. It’s also a clear rebuke of Donald Trump’s national agenda.
The budget includes six months of paid parental leave. Two years of free community college. Major funding for early childhood education programs. Healthcare expansion that includes more access for undocumented immigrants.
“This is a reflection of our values,” Newsom said in his two-hour address unveiling the budget Thursday.
Many of Newsom’s budgetary priorities are solidly progressive. Of the $209-bn budget, 53% goes toward education, from kindergarten through public state-funded higher education, and 28% goes toward health and human services.
In addition to allocating $80.7bn for K-12 schools and community colleges, the governor’s budget includes $500m to encourage local governments to build emergency shelters and navigation centers for the homeless, and $25m to assist homeless disabled individuals in applying for disability benefits.
It also includes $25m for an immigration rapid response program to assist community-based organizations and not-for-profits, and $75m for other immigration-related services such as assistance with naturalization and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications.
At times, Newsom flat-out challenged the president in his Thursday address, whether it was over Trump’s debunked claims about California’s wildfire management, or individually mandated healthcare.
“With all due respect to the president of the United States, he’s wrong,” Newsom said about healthcare. “California is right.”
Some are already speculating that Newsom may be the most progressive governor in state history. But Jason McDaniel, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, said he sees Newsom’s push toward the left as less a personal evolution and more of one of the entire Democratic party.
“Gavin Newsom used to position himself as liberal but somewhat moderate and acceptable to independent voters, so to speak, but that’s not necessarily where the Democratic party’s energy is right now,” McDaniel said. “I think he recognizes that. I think that shows he’s understanding the evolution of the Democratic party.”
McDaniel said he believes the California Democratic party is entering into a era of “muscular liberalism”.
“It’s not just about defending existing programs and maintaining them,” he said. “It’s about establishing new programs and new services that are responsive to modern needs. Paid family leave for six months is an example of that. Extending healthcare benefits to undocumented immigrants – that idea would have been hugely controversial 10, 15 years ago and now that’s barely generating a ripple.”
This era of muscular liberalism was made possible, McDaniel said, in large part because of the state’s response to the longtime Republican rule of Congress. The flexing is only heightened now because of Trump.
Tom Ammiano, a progressive former state assemblymember who served on San Francisco’s board of supervisors with Newsom says he’s seen the Democrats over his long political career skew to the left a number of times, only for party leadership to ultimately continue on a more risk-averse path. But Ammiano says he’s cautiously optimistic about what Newsom’s budget reveals about the party’s priorities.
“Even with Newsom’s faults, it’s still a signal that, particularly in California, the party can stop being so nervous about issues,” Ammiano said.
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