California’s presidential primary is coming up on March 3, 2020. In advance of Super Tuesday, we asked each of the Democratic candidates currently in the race a series of questions based on issues that impact L.A. residents–and all Americans. In this edition, we get answers from environmental activist and ex-hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.
Housing & Homelessness
As rents continue to rise faster than incomes, what policies will you institute on a national level that will help people from being priced out of renting in expensive markets like Southern California?
Housing is at the center of inequality, because it determines so many other things in our lives. Far too many families struggle to find safe, healthy, and affordable units. In fast-growing metropolitan areas, including expensive markets in California, demand for housing is higher than supply. When developers build, they focus almost exclusively on high-income consumers, leaving working Americans and the poor with few affordable options.
As president, I will invest more than $625 billion over ten years in existing housing programs, create more than 3.5 million units of affordable housing, and mobilize an additional $600 billion to foster climate-smart cities with affordable housing.
It is also critical we fix the underlying economic issues that prevent Americans from being able to afford rent, including stagnant wages. In addition to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the reforms in my economic agenda, which include giving 95 percent of Americans a 10 percent tax cut and transitioning to a green economy and creating millions of well-paying jobs along the way, will help build families’ wealth and ability to afford rent.
I have a record of working to address California’s affordable housing challenges; the organization I founded, NextGen America, has supported measures to strengthen the burden of proof that local governments must meet when denying certain permits for proposed housing developments, supported a bill to help preserve at-risk affordable housing by giving qualified housing organizations a right to purchase affordable housing developments and keep the units affordable, and supported legislation to end discrimination against renters who use federal rental vouchers.
How can the federal government make homeownership possible for more people, particularly members of younger generations that are being all but shut out of the real estate market?
Home ownership remains one of the greatest opportunities for wealth-building in America. However, stagnant wages and a lack of new construction are preventing millions of Americans, especially younger generations, from being able to purchase a home.
In addition to pursuing a people-first economic agenda that builds prosperity for all Americans, I will pursue policies designed to expand ownership, build family equity, and right historic racist actions. My administration will create a revolving fund to provide down payment assistance to public servants—including first responders, doctors and nurses, and teachers—to help them build equity in the communities they strengthen every day through their work. I will rigorously enforce protection laws, and pursue a revitalization and racially corrective reform of the Federal Mortgage Program, and along with financial incentives, will ensure that individuals and families have access to financial products that will help keep housing stock in individual and family hands, instead of as a source of passive income for the already wealthy. Finally, I will return power to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau so that people aren’t being discriminated against when trying to purchase a home, and rigorously enforce against predatory landlords, mobile home loan programs, and discrimination in the mortgage system.
In recent months, Donald Trump has suggested that local, state, and federal governments address the homelessness crisis by “cracking down,” razing encampments, and moving homeless people into “government-backed facilities.” How would your homelessness policy differ?
Unlike Donald Trump, who has parachuted into the homelessness crisis with a menu of band-aid solutions, I understand that homelessness is a persistent problem that is exacerbated by poor policy. Homelessness is inextricably related to the variable needs an individual must meet at any given moment: shelter, food, clothing, physical and mental healthcare, and more.
The skyrocketing cost of housing puts many working-class Americans on the brink of losing their homes. My administration will take a housing-first approach to homelessness, pairing stable, safe shelter with appropriate resources to nutritional, health, training, and education programs. We will invest $8 billion in Homeless Assistance Grants and Case Management and will work to keep families in their homes and provide access to holistic case management services by increasing funding for the McKinney-Vento Act, expanding Section 5 of McKinney-Vento to rehabilitate vacant properties to house the previously homeless or those at risk of becoming so, and reforming and resourcing the Continuum of Care Program.
A Steyer Administration will partner with municipalities and states on day one to address the homelessness crisis and provide relief. We will build strong relationships with local leaders, improve data collection and technology infrastructure, and expand upon the work of the Interagency Council on Homelessness and Continuum of Care hand in hand with local officials and advocates.
I am committed to ending veteran homelessness once and for all, and my administration will expand access and increase funding to the HUD-VASH program so that more veterans who are homeless can obtain housing. I will increase funding for the VA’s Support Services for Veterans Families anti-homeless program to provide housing assistance in high-cost areas, and increase job training opportunities for veterans returning home.
My organization has supported California state and local ballot measures that have provided billions of dollars in bonds for affordable housing, including Propositions 1 and 2 in 2018, which funded affordable housing projects, home loans for veterans, and supportive housing projects for people with severe mental illness who are homeless.
Thousands of Californians who work in the insurance industry stand to lose jobs under a single-payer health care system. How would you make healthcare a reality for all Americans while preserving jobs?
I believe that health is the foundation for a full and productive life, and that health care should be a right for every American. In my view, the best way to guarantee the American people’s right to Health Care is to protect key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and reaffirm the ACA’s commitment to provide for people younger than 26 and those living with pre-existing conditions. I support a public option that offers fully subsidized enrollment for the nearly 5 million qualifying individuals who should be covered under an expanded Medicaid. This framework allows people who receive coverage through their employer to opt into the public option if it better suits their needs. To increase affordability for the middle class, my plan will expand financial subsidies offered by the ACA.
My plan for an affordable, quality public option won’t eliminate the insurance industry, but it will send private insurers a crystal clear message—compete on cost and quality of care, or lose customers. This will enable the government to negotiate costs with medical groups and providers directly, just like Medicare does today. To eliminate surprise billing, my plan will cap emergency room expenses and will ensure that everything required for a patient’s care—including medical professionals on call and lab work—are in-network. Prescription drug prices will be benchmarked against international standards and price-capped, so Americans can receive affordable medication. My administration will enact antitrust regulations and consumer protection laws to break the corporate stranglehold over our health care system.
Regulating Corporations & Tech
Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies have been accused of being complicit in the spread of misinformation. How would your administration regulate these platforms?
Social media companies are not living up to their own terms of service. If Facebook and Twitter are going to restore the public’s trust, they should take swift action to make sure that hate groups do not find a home on their websites and misinformation campaigns are not spread through their platforms.
At companies like Disney, executives take home enormous salaries while park workers report being forced to live in their cars and in motels throughout the Southland. Do you have a plan to control the CEO-to-worker pay ratio?
It’s high time to reverse the Republican Party’s economic assault on American workers and families, which consistently favors corporations and the very rich at the expense of the working class. It is unacceptable that the richest 1 percent now holds 32 percent of American wealth, while 40 percent of Americans would have trouble meeting an unexpected $400 expense. As president, I will build a people-powered economy that harnesses American innovation and ingenuity. My administration will revitalize the middle class by providing tax relief to working families, making strategic investments for sustained growth, creating millions of new jobs, and opening the doors of economic opportunity once again.
In addition to fighting for a $15 minimum wage, we will rebalance the scales of our economy by offering immediate financial relief to 95 percent of Americans by providing a 10 percent tax cut. My administration will also increase the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, which help millions of families pay for basic necessities. Under my administration’s tax plan, a family with two young kids earning $55,000 a year could save over $3,000 on their yearly tax bill. I will roll back Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and will institute a wealth tax and make sure income earned from capital gains and dividends is taxed at the same rate as income earned from a job.
Would you support making something similar to the 2019 California Consumer Privacy Act, which allows individuals to opt out of having their data sold, national law?
There’s no question that Americans should control their online data. When tech companies either steal data or fail to adequately protect our privacy, they should be liable under the law.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently reiterated a policy that Los Angeles law enforcement will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ attempts to apprehend undocumented individuals. What is your position on sanctuary cities and ICE’s authority?
I feel strongly that we must respect the claims of those seeking asylum in our nation. I also believe that we must ensure ICE is an organization that is enforcing humane immigration laws with dignity and respect.
I have been outspoken in calling out the current administration’s immigration policies for what they are: racist. The 10.5–12 million undocumented Americans are an important part of our society and integral to our country’s economic engine. They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family. They were children adopted into American families and they are the parents of U.S. citizens. Yet despite this, politicians in Washington, D.C. have failed to do right for them or for our nation by recognizing their contributions and presence. This is unconscionable. As President, I will work closely with Congress to establish a fair, equitable, and expedited pathway to citizenship.
On day one, my administration will reinstate and extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), including Advance Parole for DACA recipients, and enact Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), ensuring that the millions who rely on those programs will be able to live their lives openly in our workplaces, classrooms, and communities. I will also end the racist Muslim ban and redesignate nations under a revitalized Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program to ensure those from nations fleeing war or natural disaster can rebuild their lives without fear. And last, I will work toward a pathway to permanent residency for those within these programs.
In your presidency, what would become of Donald Trump’s border wall project?
I categorically oppose the construction of Donald Trump’s border wall. My administration will ensure the continuation of critical border security operations, but “Build the Wall” is not the answer. Trump’s wall is a monument to racism and a power grab to serve his own worst impulses—no matter the cost to the environment, humanity, and our democracy.
Environment & Climate Change
How would you address the fires that now annually plague California?
I decided to run for president because, despite several Democratic candidates talking about the climate crisis, the seriousness of the threat was not getting the attention it demanded. I am the only candidate who will make addressing climate change my number one priority as President of the United States. There’s no question that if the climate crisis remains unchecked, more families across the country will be at risk of losing their homes, their livelihoods, and even their lives as fires become more intense and fire seasons lengthen. But of course it’s not just fires—any plan to address the climate crisis must consider all the threats we’re facing. My presidency will mean a mandate to take the broad and bold action we need. Climate change doesn’t just represent a serious threat—it is also a great opportunity to build a sustainable American infrastructure and an economy that restores prosperity to all Americans, not just the wealthy.
In order to break the cycle of the catastrophic effects of climate change, we need to build resilient infrastructure and a renewable economy. Renewable energy is the future, and as we move away from fossil fuels we will need to replace them with renewable energy sources. My plan will mobilize a $250 billion investment in grid modernization and resilience and another $200 billion towards distributed reliability resources, including solar, microgrids, mobile batteries, and emergency power centers. These are needed upgrades both to reduce fire risk and to transition to 100 percent clean energy.
We also need to invest in individual ecosystems (forests, lakes, oceans) in the context of climate change. This will mean undoing the negligence of the Trump Administration’s policies and creating collaboration between the states and the federal government to address the problems of designing, building, and maintaining climate-resilient communities.
As part of my Justice Centered Climate Plan, I will invest nearly $500 billion in the upkeep and protection of our watersheds, wetlands, national parks, and forests—and this includes fire management as well as protecting our clean drinking water. Because while some of the impacts of climate change are already here, there are levelheaded preventative measures we can take to protect ourselves and our forests from the worst dangers. But we need to do more than just clean up our forests—we need to do something for the thousands of people who have already been displaced by the climate crisis, and the millions more who will be.
My plan puts $555 billion into developing climate-smart communities and housing and an additional $755 billion into adaptation, resilience, and green infrastructure. This will ensure that the people who are displaced from fires and flooding have affordable places to live with access to green space. And it will also ensure that they have good-paying jobs building our new climate-resilient infrastructure, protecting our lands and waters, and serving communities hit by the climate crisis as long-term disaster recovery workers.
Hollywood & Entertainment
In general, do you see Hollywood being a more positive or negative influence on American life and culture?
Hollywood reflects both the good and bad of American culture. There’s no question that it has been a solid force for change and representation with movies like Selma, Moonlight, and Black Panther. However, Hollywood has also sometimes encouraged some of the darker elements in society. Hollywood has immense power to influence thoughts, ideas, and perceptions, and they should take this responsibility seriously.
What’s your favorite movie?
The Godfather Part II
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