California Dem Introduces Bill To Divert Surplus Funds to Reparations Amid Historic Budget Deficit

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February 21, 2024

A California Democrat last week introduced a bill that would divert reserve funds from an economic relief fund to pay for reparations amid a historic budget deficit in the state.

California law requires unspent money from the state's General Fund to go to the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties (SFEU), a reserve that lawmakers have broad discretion to use for public purposes. Democratic state senator Steven Bradford's S.B. 1331 would require the state's controller, its chief fiscal officer, to put 6 percent of the money transferred to the SFEU into a reparations fund the bill would create.

"The bill would require the controller to transfer from the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties to the Fund for Reparations and Restorative Justice an amount equal to 6 percent of transfers from the General Fund to the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties, as specified," the text reads.

The reparations fund would give money to support "policies that indemnify African-American descendants of a chattel enslaved person or descendants of a free black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century."

Bradford told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement that the reparations fund would implement potential reparations policies approved by the legislature and governor. He also defended his proposal to allocate money to it from the state's reserve funds.

"SB 1331 does not take funding from any existing program but would be funded from general fund budget reserves," Bradford said. "The bill moves the discussion from the rhetorical to reality. ... By making a deposit in a public fund for reparations, we will be acknowledging the importance of addressing systemic inequalities rooted in policies like redlining and the racially motivated use of eminent domain laws to displace Black families and Black businesses. These are harms that have actually happened in California and are documented in the California Reparations Task Force report."

Bradford's bill came days before a government watchdog warned that California's budget deficit swelled to $73 billion, due to a $24 billion decrease in revenues. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) had predicted last month that the deficit would be under $40 billion.

In addition to Bradford's bill, the state's Legislative Black Caucus introduced a package of 14 proposed bills on Wednesday to address the issue of reparations. Although there was no legislation to provide for direct cash payments to descendants of slaves, it did include an apology for human rights violations and the prioritization of African-American applicants—especially descendants of slaves—for occupational licensing.

Bradford's introduction of the bill comes after he served on the state's Reparations Task Force, which last summer released an 1,100-page report with recommendations that included decriminalizing public urination and defunding school police.