Fact Check: No, California Hasn’t Had an ‘Incredible’ Decade

Gavin Newsom
Getty Images/Frederic J. Brown

CLAIM: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) says California had an “incredible” decade because it stood up for “our values” and took on “big issues.”

VERDICT: Mostly false. California’s economy recovered, but it lags behind in other areas.

Newsom tweeted on New Year’s Day: “What an incredible decade. We’ve accomplished so much in CA by standing up for our values and taking on some of the biggest issues — from healthcare to gun violence to climate change.”

Curiously, Newsom did not cite the state’s economic or fiscal progress, but its “values.” That is because much of what Newsom and the Democrats value in California has to do with good intentions, rather than real-world results.

California’s only “achievement” in health care is extending “free” benefits to illegal aliens. Despite gun control, it led the nation in “mass slayings” last year. And its effect on global climate is negligible, as its energy costs climb.

When Breitbart News asked Newsom last month how he would defend his state against conservative criticism, he cited California’s economic recovery, and noted that the state now runs a budget surplus, rather than a deficit.

But these trends, while commendable, are inseparable from the recovery of the nation as a whole. Though the state remains a hothouse for high-tech and media startups, thousands of companies left the state due to its high taxes, heavy regulations, and litigious environment.

Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, once said: “We’ve got a few problems, we have lots of little burdens and regulations and taxes … But smart people figure out how to make it.”

That attitude sums up California’s economic development over the decade: incredible, and growing, wealth at the top, among the tech elite and the well-connected — while the poor grow, and the middle class stagnates, or leaves.

As Leo Tolstoy said, by way of Isaiah Berlin: “The leaves of a tree delight us more than the roots.” And the roots of California’s progress have rotted over the past decade, under both Brown and Newsom, by a variety of measures.

Middle-class exodus: From 2007 to 2016, California lost a net million residents — some 2.5% of its population (which still grows due to births and immigration). The high cost of living — driven by high taxes and the shortage of housing — is a major factor. With homeowners and small business owners — the Republican base — leaving, Democrats and their policies become entrenched, though the state may lose a congressional seat after the Census.

Power shortages: The state that leads the nation, and the world, in technological innovation cannot keep the lights on any longer — not since the Pacific Gas & Electric Company began shutting off the electricity last year during high winds to prevent wildfires and protect itself from liability. After focusing on “green” energy and letting nuclear plants go dark, the state government was unprepared for the basic task of making sure California had enough power.

Homelessness: The most visible change in California over the past decade has been the surge in homelessness — 16.4% in 2018 alone, which “entirely” accounted for the nation’s overall 2.7% rise. Tent cities are becoming a common sight in the big cities, and even in rural towns. The state has done nothing to address the root causes of homelessness; it keeps offering generous welfare benefits and asking the federal government for housing money.

Drought: California suffered one of the worst droughts in its history for much of the decade. The effects were made worse because the state has failed to invest in new water storage infrastructure for decades. Though politicians point to climate change (inaccurately) as the cause of recent wildfires, poor forestry management — state and federal — plus restrictions on logging and poor residential planning have turned natural variation into man-made disasters.

Infrastructure: The state suffers from a massive backlog in infrastructure spending. Democrats recently provided more funding for the state’s roads — through an unpopular, regressive gas tax hike rather than spending cuts on less urgent priorities. But one of Newsom’s first acts as governor was to cancel much of the state’s high-speed rail plan, which had already sunk billions of federal dollars into plans for a rural segment no one had any interest in using.

Education: The past decade saw California schools continue to underperform. Reform movements, championing school choice, public charters, merit pay, and other proven innovations, gained support in minority communities and even won in local school board elections — only to be crushed, repeatedly, by teachers-union-backed candidates at the state level. For California’s children, a decade of underachievement in public schools could have lifelong effects.

Crime: Though crime remains at historically low levels, the past decade saw periods of increased crime in many areas, thanks in part to ill-conceived prison reforms such as Proposition 47, which focused on reducing sentences and downgrading many crimes. Notorious crimes committed by illegal aliens — such as the killing of Kate Steinle in 2015 — became national symbols of the lack of immigration enforcement and a general decline in the rule of law.

As this article was about to be published, Newsom added more claims about California’s success:

Noticeably absent: any mention of results, aside from the low unemployment rate, for which President Donald Trump can also claim credit.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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