A second take: Governor Newsom should have been recalled

October 11, 2021 — by Jonathan Li

In 2019, 650,000 people moved out of California. From ridiculously high taxes and living costs to failing infrastructure and education, the Golden State is headed in the wrong direction. 

Part of the reason for California’s decline has been Governor Gavin Newsom’s continuous inadequate responses to the state’s most pressing issues. As the individual responsible for leading state pandemic policies, education, welfare programs, infrastructure, etc., millions of people depend on the effectiveness of his decisions. 

Characterized by a lack of transparency and budget mismanagement, Newsom’s term has been substantially more harmful than beneficial to California.  

Most recently is Newsom’s poor response to the pandemic from freeing inmates with COVID-19 instead of providing them with the necessary treatment to cutting spending on education and public employee wages instead of the police force and other over-funded sectors. Newsom hasn’t hesitated to host mask-off parties at a swanky Napa Valley restaurant during the middle of the pandemic either, highlighting his hypocrisy and disregard for the gravity of the pandemic.

Newson’s inadequate governorship does not stop there; California’s pressing homelesness crisis represents a far more significant and harmful failure that reveals a myriad of other cracks within his administration. 

Since Newsom’s election in 2018, California’s homeless population has increased by 24 percent (this number was recorded before COVID-19). Newsom’s improper responses to such a colossal issue is indicative of his failed policies. Ironically, his 2018 campaign for governor had focused particularly on handling California’s homelessness crisis. 

In May, he signed a $12 billion bill supported by taxpayers to improve housing for the homeless, but that flashy number doesn’t cover up the fact that there has been little tangible progress as a result of this bill. Homelessness is a complex issue, and just throwing money at these types of issues rarely ever fixes them. Billions of California taxpayers’ dollars have been invested into improving the lives of the homeless, and yet on any given day, over 161,548 Californians experience homelessness and 271,528 students attending public schools have experienced homelessness over the course of 2019. 

The biggest reason for California’s homelessness is the complete mess of a system implemented to handle this issue. With 41 different programs and at least nine state agencies overseeing them, the existing system is incredibly inefficient. This means that billions of dollars go to waste through bureaucratic loopholes. 

With these issues in mind, the best alternative would have been a bold leader capable of properly managing funds and dedicated to transparency. Leading democratic candidate Kevin Paffrath fit this description better than anyone else with a detailed step-by-step solution to each of California’s problems, promising to make all decisions and transactions public. Paffrath’s proposals reveal the shortcomings of the Newsom administration.

According to his website, Paffrath promised to provide all homeless individuals with housing within 60 days. His plan was as follows: Homelessness will be declared as a state of emergency and the National Guard will begin construction on 80 new Emergency Facilities capable of housing 160,000 homeless people. Each Modern Emergency Facility will include facilities to support these people, providing all Californians a bare-minimum, social safety net. 

Such actions are well within California gubernatorial power, yet Newsom hasn’t made any such movements. 

His inaction highlights another major issue: budget mismanagement.

Historically, California’s government has failed to efficiently manage its budget, which is something Newsom has completely disregarded. California relentlessly taxes its inhabitants and businesses with higher rates than any other state, and yet it ranks #31 in infrastructure, last in homelessness support and #40 in public pre-K through 12 education according to USNews.

On top of sky-high tax rates, Newsom has cut state employees’ wages by 10 percent, reduced funding for California public universities and cut school budgets by $19 billion. He has borrowed $350 million from the federal government and opened a line of credit worth $10 billion.

And still, there’s no tangible progress. 

So where are the funds going? 

Californians have no idea — and that’s the issue. Out of 50 states, California remains the only state that refuses to disclose or produce a state checkbook. From 2015 to 2019, State Controller Betty Yee has identified $4.35 billion in waste and fiscal mismanagement of funds, while the state government spent $1.5 trillion; this number is now substantially higher.

Given the lack of actual progress in the sectors these funds are dedicated to, there is a clear lack of transparency and high probability for corruption within the state government.

More shocking is the fact that the state controller office, responsible for tracking the transaction of the state’s funds and ensuring the state passes audits, can’t even locate the records. $4.35 billion is a substantial amount, but this is an extremely conservative estimate given that records for California’s expenditures don’t even exist. 

Even the Financial Information System For California (FISCAL), an online platform containing details of a portion of how California manages its taxes, overlooks the spending of various major government agencies, including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the state legislature, California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the office of legislative counsel. Another 10 major business units — corrections, rehabilitations, health and human services, the lottery, justice, motor vehicles, water resources and transportation — won’t be included in FISCAL for years. 

If the transactions can’t be tracked and followed, it is extremely difficult to find and stop schemes and other fraudulent behavior that could cost billions of taxpayer dollars. And without measures to track how the government is spending its budget, it’s impossible to keep Newsom and his administration in check.

Along with undisclosed transactions, there are a number of expenditures and projects that Newsom actively advocates for that continue to prove to be harmful to Californians. 

At the top of the list is a high speed railroad to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles that has taken over 10 years to build. Newsom recently proposed a $4 billion budget to continue the construction of this project, after $10 billion have already been wasted in various delays. Now, according to the government, such a project might only be completed in 2029. 

Connecting the two major cities is no small feat, but with the amount of resources the government has at hand, funds spent and time dedicated, it is ridiculous that Newsom continues to pursue such a project instead of outsourcing it to a corporation or manufacturer that could greatly reduce costs and time, as well as compensate its employees properly. 

With this in mind, living costs and taxes are stifling. It’s no surprise that so many business owners and residents are fleeing for Texas and other lower-tax states. A myriad of legal procedures make running small companies not only difficult but risky, as a failure to file any of the documents can lead to substantial legal consequences. 

Additionally, before the pandemic, Newsom had pushed for a number of taxes. More often than ever, larger companies often choose to relocate, taking with them thousands of jobs and millions in revenue for the state, which in turn will lead to higher taxes and more government expenditures in an attempt to account for the lost revenue. A number of notable companies choose to exit California, such as Tesla, Oracle, Hewlett Packard and Palantir.

With over $200 billion in expenditures paid for by such companies and the wealthy, California teeters on the edge of either cutting spending on sectors that are already in shambles, or moving the responsibility to the middle class and poor. 

The recall effort ultimately failed to unseat Newsom in large part because Larry Elder, the top alternative candidate, was seen as too extreme and aligned with Donald Trump, but Kevin Paffrath would have certainly made the best alternative for California. From homeless shelters to trade schools and tax cuts, Paffrath’s solutions represent exactly what California needs. 

The recall election marked a turning point for Californian politics. With increased turnout, and unprecedented mobilization amongst Democratic voters since the dawn of modern politics, Californians are less hesitant to vote, and a greater turnout is never a bad thing. This effort should act as a reminder to Newsom that if necessary, California can replace him, and superior alternatives are already out there.

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