Gavin Newsom’s brush with conservatism

By Chantal Lovell
May 14, 2021

For months now, Governor Gavin Newsom has spared no opportunity to demean and bash conservatives for their efforts to do what he thought unthinkable: put him up for recall. But as quickly as he sent his kids back to in-person private school this past fall, Newsom seems to have embraced a very conservative principle: return to taxpayers some of their money. 

Predictable as it is, it’s nevertheless brilliant political theater, an attempt to undo the damage of his French Laundry soirée and term of for-me-but-not-for-thee reign. 

In his press conference this week announcing his economic recovery plan/attempt to overcome the recall, the governor proudly proclaimed, “California is roaring back!” In true Golden State fashion, our governor will celebrate with traditional gilded stimulus checks. Under his proposal, Californians earning less than $75,000 per year would receive $600 stimulus checks. Those with children and undocumented immigrants would receive $500 bonues. 

He’s doing this in part because he’s required by law to do so thanks to something called the Gann Limit. Led by tax-reform advocate Paul Gann, California voters overwhelmingly implemented this tax protection in 1979, capping state spending at 1978-79 levels, adjusted for population and inflation. Revenues that exceed this limit must be returned to taxpayers through tax cuts or rebates — and to public schools, thanks to a subsequent initiative, Prop. 98. Donate here to support fiscal conservatism like this.

The governor is sitting on a mountain of cash because (a) California’s highest earners pay the highest income taxes in the nation and (b) two successive administrations have sent to California billions in federal cash. The result: a $75.7 billion state surplus. Rather than distribute that money equitably to the taxpayers who paid it or enact real tax reform as required under Gann — permanent tax cuts that would benefit the state and its residents for decades – Newsom plans to redistribute it to just some taxpayers on the eve of his looming recall. 

Wealth redistribution is of course core to liberal ideology. But what makes Newsom’s plan interesting is how he justifies it: with reference to a  decades-old law born of  true fiscal conservatism. 

He’s even sounding like a conservative. 

“We believe people are better suited than we are to make determinations for themselves on how best to use these dollars,” Newsom said

Certainly, this isn’t the real fiscal conservatism Gann was going for, and giving anything more than a passing glance to Newsom’s proposal raises eyebrows. It’s wealth distribution and politicking on the backs of taxpayers, thinly veiled as conservatism. 

John Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, raised questions about whether Newsom’s targeted approach would actually satisfy the Gann Limit, but acknowledged it’s hard to argue with returning money to taxpayers even through such a flawed proposal. 

Lest we forget that the surplus was achieved not because of the governor and his policies but despite them, Coupal offered a poignant reminder: “The people who deserve the credit are the people who are writing checks to the government.” 

Quote of the week

“‘Labor partners’ have held students hostage for over 400 days, all so they can stack up more concessions that have little-to-nothing to do with ensuring a safe return to the classroom.” – Mehrsima Moussavian, LAUSD parent

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