Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, November 19.

Spend or save?

Even with a rosier-than-expected budget forecast, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers have some hard choices ahead of them.

Wealthy Californians who made financial gains amid the pandemic and a booming stock market helped the state reap $26 billion in one-time surplus funds, according to a Wednesday budget forecast from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. That could help the state reverse cuts to state employee salaries, courts and the UC and CSU systems and make good on payments owed to K-12 schools and community colleges. But California will still likely face a $17 billion deficit by 2024, leaving lawmakers with two unappealing choices — cut services or raise taxes, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

Though the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended lawmakers allocate a “significant portion” of the surplus to building reserves and paying down debt, leaders of the state Assembly and Senate intimated they have other plans.

  • Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat: “It should be our priority to restore funds to critical programs that were cut and prevent additional cuts. I agree with Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ approach of making use of the $26 billion that has been identified.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom will unveil his 2021-22 budget in January, kicking off months of negotiations with the Legislature. Both will face pressure from unions and other advocacy groups to raise taxes as numerous safety nets collapse. While thousands of renters stare down an eviction moratorium that expires in February, the state is scrambling to find permanent homes for homeless Californians before federal funding dries up in December. And nearly 750,000 Californians will lose federal unemployment benefits at the end of December when certain provisions of the CARES Act expire, according to a new analysis from the California Policy Lab.

  • Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California: “Stock market-driven revenues cannot mask the suffering Californians are experiencing at the other end of the income scale … It’s long past time for our leaders to tax privileged billionaires and corporations for investments that ensure today’s crises don’t become catastrophes.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 1,047,789 confirmed coronavirus cases and 18,360 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


If anyone’s had a good 2020, it’s California county elections officials who have been counting ballots twice as quickly this year as compared to the last two elections. Ben Christopher explains why.


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1. Doctors’ group attended controversial dinner

Photo by K Tao via Flickr

The French Laundry saga just keeps getting bigger. Also at the dinner party Newsom apologized this week for attending: two top officials from the California Medical Association, the powerful interest group that lobbies on behalf of California doctors, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. The attendance of Dustin Corcoran, the group’s CEO, and Janus Norman, its lobbyist and senior vice president, raised concerns that both the government and medical profession could lose credibility with the public as the state imposes tough new restrictions in response to surging infections.

  • Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a UCSF epidemiologist: “If … we have several leaders who are apparently acting in contradiction to what they are saying publicly, that puts their credibility in doubt. And that is the biggest challenge with this, that we really need for voices and actions to be aligned.”

Newsom acknowledged this week that his attendance at the dinner could make Californians less inclined to abide by the third statewide shutdown. Numerous businesses are planning to openly defy the new restrictions, and some counties, including Fresno and Placer, have said they won’t enforce them.

2. The “forever chemicals” in California’s water

Frances Esparza, superintendent of the El Rancho Unified School District, runs tap water from a new filtration system at Magee Elementary in Pico Rivera on Nov. 6, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters

Even as California tries to crack down on the cancer-causing “forever chemicals” contaminating drinking water across the state, the scope of the problem — and thus of the necessary response — remains unknown. Less than 9% of California’s roughly 14,350 public drinking water wells have been tested for PFOA and PFOS, dangerous industrial chemicals used to make firefighting foam, Teflon and food packaging. Of the tested wells, around 15% exceeded California’s new, stricter PFOA and PFOS thresholds in at least one round of testing over the past year, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. But the tougher restrictions only apply to some of California’s public wells considered especially vulnerable to contamination — and none of its hundreds of thousands of private wells — leaving millions of residents in the dark about the safety of their drinking water. To make matters worse, it’s extremely expensive to clean up the chemicals. The Orange County Water District estimates it could cost more than $1 billion over the next 30 years to treat contaminated water in wells in its territory.

The costs can be especially prohibitive for rural regions, some of which are serviced by just one well, CalMatters’ Rebecca Sohn reports.

  • Jim Maciel, board member of the Armona Community Service District in Kings County: “These costs are really crippling disadvantaged communities.”

3. Some positive school news

Image via iStock

Tens of thousands more California community college students are completing math and English courses essential for transferring to a UC or CSU, according to a report released late Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. Thanks to a 2017 law that largely allowed students to enroll in transfer-level courses without first needing to take remedial courses, 57,000 more students passed a transfer-level English class in 2019 than in 2015, while 31,000 more students completed transfer-level math, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn writes.

  • The report’s authors: “Overall, our findings show that when given the opportunity, students can succeed in college-level courses.”

Nevertheless, inequities remain. At some community colleges, Black and Latino students were enrolled in transfer-level math courses at lower levels than the systemwide average.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom’s mea culpa after attending a lobbyist friend’s birthday party spotlights how insiders work the Capitol.

Post-Prop. 22: Here are two regulation changes for Uber and Lyft that would decrease traffic congestion and carbon emissions while increasing drivers’ wages, writes journalist and author Steven Hill.

Reforming tax credits: If California taxpayers are to increase subsidies for wealthy investors who fund affordable housing production, they should get more in return, argues Scott Littlehale of Smart Cities Prevail.


Other things worth your time

What California exodus? Exits fell last year in first drop since 2011. // Orange County Register

California’s food banks will soon get a shakeup. Will it interrupt supply amid pandemic? // Sacramento Bee

PG&E names Michigan utility chief as new CEO. // San Francisco Chronicle

One killed as wind whips wildfires in California, Nevada. // Sacramento Bee

John Cox: Newsom has turned Disneyland into the Tragic Kingdom. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, a rising Democratic star, concedes election to challenger Kevin Lincoln. // Stockton Record

California Legislature staffer arrested on child porn charge, Sacramento sheriff says. // Sacramento Bee

California could get boost in race for top job on House Agriculture Committee. // San Francisco Chronicle

LAPD must now obtain verbal consent before searching someone at routine stop. // Los Angeles Daily News

Judge bars immigration arrests at San Diego’s federal courthouse. // Voice of San Diego


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...