Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger IMAGE BY Gage Skidmore

In summary

Newsom unveils spending plan. California becomes a laboratory for big blue ideas. Renewable energy mandate powers state’s climate goals.

Good morning, California.

“We need Joe Biden to bring our nation and world together during these most divided and dangerous times.”—L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, endorsing the former vice president’s presidential campaign. 

  • Garcetti and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein are Biden’s most high-profile California endorsements so far. 
  • U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom are uncommitted for now.

Newsom to outline spending plan

Gov. Gavin Newsom (Photo by Eric Paul Zamora for the Fresno Bee)

Gov. Gavin Newsom is releasing his budget proposal today, and its priorities will include homelessness, housing, health care and education.

The governor’s aides have showcased parts of the spending plan in recent days, including proposals to: 

  • Make California the first state to establish its own generic drug label. The state would negotiate contracts with drugmakers to produce prescriptions, leveraging the state’s massive market to increase competition and lower generic drug prices, CalMatters’ Judy Lin and Elizabeth Aguilera report
  • Launch a four-year, $1 billion revolving loan program to seed recycling, low-carbon transportation and climate-smart agriculture projects.
  • Earmark $1.4 billion for homeless services, particularly emergency rental assistance and much-needed board-and-care facilities for the mentally ill.
  • Create a California version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Obama-era business watchdog that was defanged by the Trump administration.

What we’ll be watching: 

  • With prison population down by 50,000 from its height, will the governor propose a cut in prison spending or, perhaps, study shuttering a prison?
  • Given his focus on chronic homelessness, will the governor call for more beds for severely mentally ill people in state facilities.
  • Newsom supported a state university campus at Stockton during his 2018 campaign. Will he offer more money for a new Cal State campus?

Big blue experiments

photo illustration of seven Democratic presidential candidates
Photo illustration, AP Photo

With Democrats holding all the political power in Sacramento for years, California has evolved into a laboratory for big blue ideas, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall writes

Put a price on carbon? We’ve done it. 

Provide health insurance for some undocumented immigrants? We do that, too. 

Gun control, minimum wage hikes, end gerrymandering, and impose heavier taxes on the rich? Check, check, check, and check.

Democratic presidential candidates don’t often point to California as a model, at least not explicitly. But for good or bad, many of the major policies they’re proposing are happening here to some degree. 

Rosenhall examined some ways Democratic presidential candidates want to make the United States more like California. 

To read her analysis of what the state’s policy experiments reveal so far, please click here.

What drives climate gains

A non-partisan report says California’s renewable energy mandate is the star of the state’s greenhouse gas goals, CalMatters environment reporter Rachel Becker reports.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office’s report published this week says the reduction is largely because of a shift toward such renewable electricity sources as wind and solar and a departure from coal. 

California cut greenhouse gases to 1990 levels four years ahead of its 2020 goal. But the state has to dramatically pick up the pace to cut emissions another 40% by the next deadline, 2030. 

Michael Wara, of Stanford University, noted that while emissions from electricity have dropped, emissions are ticking up in other sources such as transportation.

  • Wara: “It’s clear that the policies in the power sector are working. It’s also clear that we can’t achieve our overall climate goals just by doing more of the same in the power sector. And so that’s a big warning sign for policy makers over the next decade.”

Meanwhile: Two Republicans, Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City and Sen. Jim Nielsen from Tehama, want to pause California’s renewable energy mandate, and place money spent on it into hardening the electricity grid. Their idea is unlikely to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

To read Becker’s report, please click here.

What became of hydrogen highway

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dreamed of a hydrogen highway, and issued an executive order in 2004 to prepare the state for a traffic jam of zero-emission, hydrogen-fueled cars, buses and trucks.

More than a decade later, Schwarzenegger’s dream remains just that, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports. Electric vehicles, not hydrogen-power vehicles, dominate the zero-emission car market.

There are hydrogen-powered forklifts, buses and trucks. But there are a mere 7,800 hydrogen fuel cell cars in the United States, almost all of which are registered in California. For context, there are more than 35 million registered vehicles in California.

Why? The technology remains expensive, and California has only 44 fueling stations, mainly in populous cities.

State officials are undeterred. 

  • Tyson Eckerle, deputy director of Zero Emission Infrastructure at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development: “Its moment is due. You are starting to see a sea change, as we get more aggressive at meeting our zero-carbon goals.”

A boost may come this summer, when hydrogen-fueled cars and shuttle buses built in Japan will be showcased at the Tokyo Olympics. Even the Olympic Torch will be lit with a hydrogen flame.

To read Cart’s report, please click here.

Duncan Hunter’s long farewell

California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter,plans to plead guilty to the misuse of campaign funds at a federal court hearing Tuesday in San Diego
Congressman Duncan Hunter (Photo by Gregory Bull, AP)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has decided not to call a special election to fill disgraced Congressman Duncan Hunter’s congressional seat.

Hunter, a Republican, pleaded guilty last month to using campaign money for his own expenses but won’t resign until Jan. 13.  If Hunter had resigned in December, state law would have compelled Newsom to call a special election to fill the seat.

But Newsom said through an aide that he won’t call a special election given “the timing of the resignation.”

The San Diego Union Tribune: “Because Hunter resigned so late and so close to the March primary, it made it increasingly difficult for a special election to be conducted or for a special election to be consolidated with the primary.”

Three Republicans—former Congressman Darrell Issa, former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Sen. Brian Jones—are seeking the seat, as is Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar.

  • DeMaio denounced Newsom’s decision not to hold an election to fill the seat, accusing him of “playing a game of partisan politics.”

The seat will remain vacant for a year. Republicans likely will hold the seat in the November election.

Money matters: Despite his guilty plea, Hunter, who took office in January 2009, will be eligible for his congressional pension. By delaying his resignation, Hunter presumably is adding to that pension.

Commentary at CalMatters

Bill Lucia, EdVoice: Nearly half of California students can’t read at grade level. The key to developing strong readers is providing teachers with the preparation and knowledge. Lawmakers should make teaching practices based on the science of reading a budgetary and policy priority. 

Jessica Millan Patterson, California Republican Party: California has serious issues and needs serious leaders to fix them. Unfortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom has spent much of his first year grabbing headlines with unnecessary fights with the federal government and ignoring the Californians he was elected to protect.

Brendan Rawson, San Jose Jazz: California has overreached in its effort to address the challenges in today’s tech platform gig-work economy. The live music sector, the progenitor of the term “gig” work, is being swept up by this law. The irony would be comical if it were not such a serious problem.


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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.