steyerLast week, Tom Steyer announced the establishment of his “Fair Shake Commission On Inequality and Opportunity in California”. The Commission’s charge: to come forward by later January 2016 with solutions to “growing income inequality in California”.

The announcement did not receive extensive coverage, beyond a San Francisco Chronicle report. The lack of media coverage probably reflects the August announcement, as well as the long list of task forces that exist in California, and the extensive discussion already undertaken over the past few years by California political and economic elites over income inequality.

Yet, anything Tom Steyer does in California must be taken seriously. Steyer has shown his ability to influence California government, most directly through his success in winning passage of Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act, in 2012. The Act has provided several hundreds of millions of dollars annually for energy efficiency projects in California schools. Steyer has shown he is willing to spend money, and cultivate legislative ties, in pursuit of policy goals. He has also shown that he is indefatigable.

In taking his “Fair Shake” campaign seriously, though, it is clear that the campaign as set out faces at least two major conceptual challenges. The campaign arises from Steyer’s role as a board member of the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington DC. CAP has undertaken extensive research and writing on income inequality, and has put forward a range of policy suggestions, involving workforce training, higher education, and income transfers.

First, within the workforce field, all of the CAP approaches and more are already being undertaken in California. There is strong evidence that the California economy already is creating far more middle class jobs than often assumed, not only in the revived construction sector but also in the new technician jobs and jobs in our growing health care, information technology and logistics sectors. Beyond these market forces, the Brown administration has made middle class job growth a focus of workforce spending. The California Workforce Development Board (CWDB), along with the Employment Training Panel, the Employment Development Department, and California’s community colleges have embarked on a series of workforce projects of apprenticeships, career pathways (union-based and non union-based), and on-going skills upgrading, to boast middle-class jobs.

The CWDB, for example, chaired by Mike Rossi, and led by Tim Rainey and Amy Wallace, has a very active program of new forms of apprenticeships, employer engagement, and career ladders, as well as initiatives for workers with disabilities, ex-offenders and the lowest income Californians. These approaches are not new: Brown was promoting them under his first administrations in the 1970s and early 1980s. But they have assumed a new focus, energy and creativity in the past few years. Perhaps CAP and the Commission members will develop other effective approaches, but for now the state efforts are way ahead of CAP.

Second, the CAP focus on income transfers reflects a very small segment of the thinking on income inequality. Like any task force in California, the Steyer task force is filled with the a diversity of women and minorities. But apart from demographics, it is very homogenous. Its members, like the CAP, have written or spoken mainly of reducing income inequality either through the workforce measures above or through increasing the earned income tax credit, or more child care subsidies, or free higher education. Some or all of these may be appropriate, but there’s a lot more to “fair shake” than income transfers.

Who can be against a “fair shake” campaign in California? It should be a campaign, though, that is based on an understanding of the extensive efforts already being undertaken. It should also be a campaign willing to question the traditional liberal approaches of CAP and its own members.