SACKS: California Is Right On The Issues; Trump Is Wrong

Glenn Sacks Contributor
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“Poor management & high taxes.” “[A] disgrace to our country.” “High crime high tax.” “Crime infested & breeding.” These are a few of the many insults Trump has directed at California recently.

In January, Trump tweeted “Billions of dollars are sent to … California for Forest fires that with proper Forest Management would never happen … I have ordered FEMA to send no more money” and “gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now or no more Fed payments!”

If Trump and his army of red-state California-bashers would like to propose severing the federal government’s financial relationship with California, we’d be all ears. California has been a donor state for over three decades. According to IRS figures, in 2018 California contributed $457 billion in taxes to the federal government — $177 billion more than any other state — and ranked 16th highest per capita. Yet, according to a 2019 Rockefeller Institute of Government report, in FY 2017 California ranked 40th in federal funds received per capita.

Of the 20 states receiving the most money back per capita from the federal government, 14 went for Trump in 2016. According to IRS figures, California paid more in federal taxes per capita than 12 of those 14.

Many of Trump’s and conservatives’ complaints revolve around California’s power in the House of Representatives. Both the House Speaker and the House Minority Leader are Californians, and Californians chair numerous House committees and subcommittees.

There’s nothing unfair at all about this — if anything, it is compensation for how severely the Connecticut Compromise works against California. Under that compromise, all states received equal representation in the upper house (the Senate), regardless of population.

There was much opposition from large states to this giveaway of power to the small states, yet in 1787 states with the largest populations outnumbered the smallest by only 7-1. Today California outnumbers 30 of the 49 other states by a margin greater than 7-1, including 23 by a margin of 10-1, 11 by 25-1, six by 40-1, and two by over 60-1. Had the founding fathers anticipated this, they would not have made the Compromise in this form, if at all. The Constitution should be amended, but such a proposal would undoubtedly be blocked by the small states.

This injustice is personified by the power wielded by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s Kentucky has a mere 1/9th the population of California and 1/7th its GDP. Yet its senior senator has been able to block even holding a vote on several hundred bills passed by the House, many of them sponsored by California representatives. The bills instead sit in McConnell’s “graveyard” — all while Trump denounces the “do-nothing” House Democrats.

In California’s numerous battles with the Trump administration and the conservative establishment over issues like climate change, immigration, and others, California’s positions have been more forward-thinking and humane, and hardly radical.

One of the biggest battles has been over Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan to lower the carbon dioxide emitted by power generators. In 2015, 71 percent of CO2 emissions from the electric power sector came from coal-fired plants. The CPP aimed to slash this by more than a third by 2030 by encouraging utilities to drop coal in favor of cleaner fuels, including solar and wind power and natural gas. The League of Conservation Voters said the CPP “established the first national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants” and was “the biggest step” the US had “ever taken to address climate change.”

The Trump administration hampered and then officially ended the CPP, replacing it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule which does not curb rising carbon emissions from power plants. California and 21 other states have sued the federal government, saying the change hinders states that pursue cleaner electricity generation and unnecessarily prolongs U.S. dependence on power generated by coal. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the changes mean “Dirty Power” and calls ACE a “stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving … special interests the green light to … worsen the climate crisis.”

Trump has also attacked California’s cap-and-trade program designed to limit air pollution. The federal government sued California, claiming the program is unconstitutional because it is run in cooperation with the Canadian province of Quebec — a prerogative it says is only possessed by the federal government.

While the Trump administration may or may not be correct on the narrow constitutional point — that California’s actions have “intruded into the federal sphere” — it is more important that California has acted. By contrast, the federal government has actively impeded the very limited progress that California and the U.S. have made on climate change. California Governor Gavin Newsom denounced the suit, saying, “The White House is yet again continuing its political vendetta against California [and] our climate policies.”

As much as California and Trump have sparred over environmental policies, nothing has drawn more fire from Trump than what he has repeatedly called “California’s illegal and unconstitutional ‘Sanctuary’ policies.” California has led the way in the sanctuary movement, as both the state and 20 different California cities and counties have declared themselves sanctuaries. Trump’s Justice Department sued, denouncing this “deliberate effort … to obstruct … enforcement of federal immigration law.”

During the 2016 campaign Trump promised to strip “all federal funding” to sanctuary cities. He later issued an executive order declaring jurisdictions ineligible to receive federal grants if they refused to comply with federal law on information sharing between local and federal authorities. California has openly refused to comply.

California has also clashed over the Trump administration’s efforts to put a citizenship question in the 2020 census — a thinly-veiled attempt to undercount our residents and reduce California’s power in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

California is correct to stand against Trump’s scapegoating of and idiotic jihad against immigrants, whose enormously valuable and very under-compensated labor is vital to our economy. We’re right to move forward on climate change. Conservatives often rail against “federal overreach” and express their affection for the 10th Amendment. Why don’t they apply those principles to California?

Glenn Sacks teaches at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.