California Gov. Gavin Newsom is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to slavery reparations proposed by his own task force, with no clear path towards a solution that would satisfy his base.
The California Reparations Task Force issued its recommendations on Saturday, which included giving just under $360,000 per person to approximately 1.8 million Black Californians who had an ancestor enslaved in the U.S. Other factors would stack additional reparations payments on top of the slavery-specific checks. In total, a Black Californian who is 71 years old and has lived in California his entire life could receive up to $1.2 million, according to an analysis from the New York Times.
The proposal is estimated to cost more than double California’s overall budget, and could risk bankrupting the state. However, those who likely support it make up a significant block of the Democratic Party – a 2021 poll by the University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB found that 64% of Democrats and 86% of Black Americans support reparations.
On Tuesday evening, Fox News Digital was first to report that Newsom, who had been silent on the issue for months, declined to endorse the cash payments. In a statement, he argued that dealing with the legacy of slavery "is about much more than cash payments."
"It will take absurd mental gymnastics to require California taxpayers, including new immigrants, low-income workers, and even some African Americans to pay for a wrong committed by other states more than 150 years ago, but that’s the position Newsom put himself in," Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher told Fox News Digital.
The Democratic governor also pledged to continue to "advance systemic changes that ensure an inclusive and equitable future for all Californians." However, he stopped short of endorsing specific recommendations and declined to weigh in on where he stands on reparations.
Critics argue that Newsom is using the lofty proposal to score political points because he views it as a non-starter in the state legislature. To that point, CalMatters recently asked all 80 assemblymembers whether they supported the task force's proposal, and only three said yes, while the rest declined to respond.
The task force's final recommendations will soon be submitted to the California Legislature, which will then decide whether to implement the measures and send them to Newsom's desk to be signed into law. If the legislature doesn’t pass a bill, proponents have called on Newsom to use his authority as governor to unilaterally enact the proposal.
At a time when the state is facing its first deficit in years, the debate comes as Newsom continues to be floated as a possible 2024 Democrat alternative to President Biden, whose job approval ratings have sunk to a career low.
The governor fueled speculation in March when he launched a political nonprofit called Campaign for Democracy that took him on a tour of multiple red states like Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.
California is suddenly strapped for cash despite being No. 1 in the country for highest income taxes, sales taxes and having the second-highest gasoline tax in the nation, second only to Pennsylvania. The state is also No. 9 in the nation for jobless claims, tied with Michigan with a 4.3% unemployment rate, compared to Florida’s 2.6%.
The state is also facing a $22.5-billion projected budget deficit after boasting about a robust surplus less than a year ago. Newsom outraged Republicans and Democrats alike after he proposed slashing his budget commitment for foster care services by two-thirds in order to help make up for the budget shortfall.
Whether Newsom will take any action on the matter remains to be seen, but he's currently caught between a rock and a hard place as he attempts to navigate the political minefield of slavery reparations.