Has Gavin Newsom lost his progressivism?

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Water: With ever more climate change underway, drought in parts of California and years of horror stories regarding toxic water coming out of Flint, Michigan, progressives know water policy is important.

In the Golden State, progressives are rightly making water policy a priority. But there’s a problem: Newly-inaugurated Gov. Gavin Newsom seems to be going about it in a way that could turn out to actually be regressive. Newsom could end up hurting the same poor Californians he’s trying to help. Where water is concerned, Newsom’s progressivism seems to have gone missing-in-action.

If you haven’t heard about Newsom’s plan, the Sacramento Bee has a summary:

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a tax on drinking water Thursday to help disadvantaged communities clean up contaminated water systems.

Newsom’s plan for a “safe and affordable drinking water fund,” included in the new governor’s first budget proposal, attempts to revive an idea that died in the Legislature last year.

A McClatchy investigation last year showed that at least 360,000 Californians rely on water that does not meet state standards for toxins. McClatchy also found that 6 million Californians have water providers that have violated state standards at some point since 2012.

“That is a disgrace,” Newsom told reporters at a budget press conference, citing a figure of 1 million people without access to safe drinking water.

Newsom’s right: It is disgraceful. Clean water is essential for life and California needs to fix this.

The problem is that what Newsom is proposing looks like a possible redux of what was proposed and rejected last year:

Last year’s proposal would have taxed residential customers 95 cents a month, to raise about $110 million a year.

And taxing every California residential customer, rich and poor alike, 95 cents a month to fund water clean-up costs is not progressive. It’s actually very regressive.

So is the portion of the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed scheme that would institute “new taxes on bottled water.”

Of course, lots of people buy bottled water – so like last year’s proposed tax and what Newsom seems to be pushing, rich Californians would pay.

But you know who definitely buys bottled water and doesn’t deserve to pay more for it and frankly can’t afford the extra cost?  Poor people who already live in areas with bad water quality and buy and drink bottled water because bad tap water is their only alternative.

You know who else buys a lot of bottled water? Working people who are constantly on the move, need to hydrate because they do manual labor jobs where they get hot and sweaty, and who don’t spend all day sitting around the house or office drinking water they’ve filtered with some high-end, faucet-filtration system or bougie water filter.

Conservatives in California are saying there’s no need for a tax to fund water cleanup efforts, and that it should be paid for out of the state’s budget surplus.

Progressives will argue more revenue enables California to fix more problems, though.

So if that’s the case, maybe Newsom should prioritize taxing polluters in a targeted manner to pay for detoxification of water?

Or maybe he should run with the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed tax hike on Californians making more than $1 million a year, instead of this regressive “add a tax to everyone’s water bill” idea?

Of course, hiking taxes on the rich might be tougher to pass than what was proposed last year or what Newsom or the State Water Resources Control Board seem to be proposing in terms of a broad-based consumption tax. But at least it would be… progressive.

What Newsom seems to be proposing just isn’t, and he should make sure that he reformulates his plan so that it is before he pushes it any further. The State Water Resources Control Board should also drop their proposal on bottled water. Why tax people who are buying it to avoid ingesting bad stuff coming out of the tap, which is there through no fault of their own?

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