California Reparations Could Top $800 Billion, Economists for State Panel Say

(Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia Commons)
March 29, 2023

California owes up to $800 billion and counting to its black residents, according to economists advising the state panel in charge of a race reparations plan.

The figure, presented to California's reparations task force ahead of its Wednesday meeting in Sacramento, is nearly triple the state's $300 billion annual budget and comes as leaders grapple with a $25 billion budget deficit. It also accounts for only a portion of the "harms" against black people that the task force wants to try to fix with cash, including housing discrimination, over-policing, and mass incarceration. The panel says the state should also pay reparations for devaluation of black businesses and eminent domain property seizures.

The sky-high proposal appears to make cash reparations more unlikely and infeasible, even as state Democrats tout their effort as a first-in-the-nation push that could serve as a model for national reparations. The debate over reparations payouts comes as San Francisco's own reparations task force has also proposed exorbitant payments. After the task force received criticism for recommending the city pay $5 million to each black resident, one panel member suggested $500 million individual payments would be reasonable.

Members of the state task force are already signaling that the enormous reparations figures recommended on paper are unlikely to become reality. Sympathetic media outlets have cautioned that "reparations" means more than cash payments and could involve new government programs.

Democratic assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who represents the State Assembly on the reparations panel, told Cal Matters that "the actual meat" of the reparations plan isn't cash payments but rather the policy recommendations to prevent discrimination from perpetuating.

And Amos Brown, a minister and the leader of San Francisco's NAACP who sits on both the state task force and the separate San Francisco panel, this month criticized the plan that he ostensibly helped write. He told NBC Bay Area that city lawmakers gave black San Franciscans false hope by voicing support for the proposal without giving any details on how they will fund it.

The state task force must present a final plan to the California legislature by this summer. Lawmakers will then have to adopt the proposals and find a way to pay for them, or come up with an alternative.