In summary

Lawmakers agree that Californians deserve some kind of rebate — they just can’t agree on how much it should be and who should get it.

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One thing California elected officials agree on: The state should give money back to its residents.

The hard part: reaching a consensus on how much money the state should return — and to whom.

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to unveil his proposal for providing financial relief to Californians staggering under soaring gas prices and skyrocketing inflation — at least the fourth such idea to emerge from the state Capitol in the last few weeks as lawmakers gear up for the 2022 election and debate how to handle California’s massive budget surplus.

Regardless, his plan will have to compete with another, introduced Friday by the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate, that would send $200 payments to California taxpayers and dependents in households earning less than $250,000.

  • Around 90% of taxpayers would receive a check, costing the state about $6.8 billion, according to estimates from budget advisers to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego. Undocumented immigrants and low-income Californians who don’t file taxes would also be eligible.
  • By including an income cap, that proposal differs significantly from one introduced last week by another group of Democrats, who want to send every California taxpayer $400 at a cost of about $9 billion.
  • Republican lawmakers, who last week saw Democrats shoot down their plan to suspend California’s gas excise tax, appear frustrated by the pileup of proposals. “This shouldn’t be difficult. Just let people keep more of their money,” said Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City. “Show us a bill to provide tax relief, with no tricks or gimmicks, and let’s vote on it ASAP. And let’s also suspend the gas tax.”
  • Meanwhile, more than 500 workers at a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond are poised to go on strike starting today — a move that could push gas prices even higher.

In other Friday economic news:

  • Citing California’s budget surplus, Wall Street investors are pushing the state to consider paying off some bonds early — while other underwriters are urging it to take on more debt, Bloomberg reports.
  • A study from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. found that California’s $330 million annual film and television tax credit generated $21.9 billion in economic output and $961.5 million in state and local tax revenue from July 2015 to June 2020.
  • Newsom highlighted a budget proposal that would give Native American tribes $100 million to, among other things, purchase, preserve and manage their ancestral lands to help California meet its climate and conservation goals. But, as the Associated Press reports, challenges have already arisen: Some tribes have competing claims over the same land.
  • And Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys called on the Los Angeles County assessor to quickly process thousands of backlogged tax relief bills for older and disabled homeowners under the statewide voter-approved Prop. 19. “Simple statements don’t fix a complex, sophisticated law,” said Assessor Jeffrey Prang.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 8,450,009 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 87,194 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 72,366,458 vaccine doses, and 74.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

1. Big changes for some schools

Sacramento City Unified School District teachers and staff demonstrate in front of district offices on March 17, 2022. Photo by Andrew Nixon, CapRadio

Wednesday is shaping up to be a big day for California public schools: Sacramento City Unified School District, which serves about 40,000 students, said Friday it will have to shutter schools on Wednesday unless district officials and key unions are able to negotiate a new contract before then. Because substitute teachers are represented by one of the unions that authorized a strike, “we are significantly limited in our ability to hire substitute teachers to fill in for those who strike,” Superintendent Jorge Aguilar wrote in a message to families. The unions say they’re striking over severe staff shortages, proposed benefit cuts and an under-resourced independent study program that has left 600 students without instruction; the district says it can’t offer employees proposed incentives until the unions accept contract agreements.

2. Community colleges face enrollment decline

Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Although California last year funneled $120 million into helping its community college system boost enrollment after a pandemic-induced decline, just 17 of 116 campuses saw an uptick in students from fall 2020 to fall 2021, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. An even more sobering statistic: 42 colleges saw a decrease in students over the same period. Overall, the California Community Colleges system estimates it’s lost more than 300,000 students since the onset of the pandemic — and officials say it will likely take another two or three years for enrollment to return to fall 2019 levels.

But the pool of California youth seeking higher education will likely shrink in coming years: The state’s K-12 system is projected to contract by nearly 600,000 students over the next eight years, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Indeed, San Francisco Unified School District received fewer applications for fall 2022 enrollment than it did for fall 2021 when excluding transitional kindergarten, district officials said Friday.

  • School Board President Jenny Lam: “We need to increase enrollment across all grades. … We are going to be working hard to rebuild trust with families in many facets of their child’s education.”

3. State slashes water allocations

A state water official conducts a snow survey at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on March 1, 2022. Photo by Ken James, California Department of Water Resources

California will notch its driest January-March period in at least a century unless several more inches of rain fall this month, state water officials said Friday after slashing allocations from 15% to 5% for systems that receive supplies from the State Water Project — which serves 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. Today, state and local water leaders are set to celebrate World Water Day by calling on Californians to “significantly and urgently increase their efforts to save water” — though such appeals appear to have had limited effect thus far. New data shows that urban Californians actually used 2.6% more water in January 2022 than they did in January 2020, despite Newsom declaring a statewide drought emergency and urging residents to cut their water use by 15%.

  • California’s persistent drought and wildly inaccurate water projections may also be affecting its ability to resolve its housing crisis: In a Thursday letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, the city of Monterey expressed its “immediate need for water by 2023” to meet a state housing mandate of building around 3,650 units by 2031. “The state is tying the hands of peninsula cities by requiring additional housing quotas without giving us the water to build those homes,” said City Manager Hans Uslar. Among other things, the city wants the state to lift a 2009 cease-and-desist order against Cal-Am, which serves most of the water customers on the Monterey Peninsula, for illegal water diversions that the city says have since stopped.

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The financial woes of California’s courthouse construction program invite state intervention.

Protect immigrant communities from ICE: State lawmakers must pass a bill that would clearly prohibit California law enforcement from transferring people to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and curtail sheriffs’ horrendous abuse of power, argue labor leader Dolores Huerta and Maria Romani of the ACLU of Northern California.

CSU needs to rethink its chancellor hiring process: The board of trustees needs to look in the mirror and overhaul its policies after the abrupt hiring and resignation of Chancellor Joseph Castro, writes William G. Tierney, a university professor emeritus at USC.

Other things worth your time

California Legislature upended by new political maps. // Associated Press

Attorney General Rob Bonta’s opponents want to talk about crime. He wants to talk about the guns driving it. // San Francisco Chronicle

Commentary: Three California races that might shake up the June primary. // Los Angeles Times

Endorsement: San Francisco needs a housing champion in Assembly District 17. // San Francisco Chronicle

Two life-long San Diegan Democrats and a Republican battle for 80th Assembly District. // San Diego Union-Tribune

L.A. mayor’s race: How USC turned to trustee Rick Caruso. // Los Angeles Times

Sacramento City Council’s Valenzuela faces recall over homeless. // Sacramento Bee

Sanders camp quietly pushes Khanna presidential bid. // Politico

Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe apologizes after DUI arrest. // KTVU FOX 2

Former Supervisor Jane Kim targeted in ethics complaint. // San Francisco Standard

How higher interest rates could help CalPERS, CalSTRS. // Sacramento Bee

Chevron sues Newsom over fracking ban. // Bakersfield Californian

San Diego-area lawmakers propose bill to protect jail inmates. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Almost every congressional earmark got funded. But not two for a San Jose Planned Parenthood. // San Francisco Chronicle

Trans health care is still up for debate in California, with patient forced to crowdfund surgery. // Sacramento Bee

Since 2015, only 10 people in San Diego have been forced into mental health treatment under Laura’s Law. // San Diego Union-Tribune

How a San Francisco remodel turned into an epic nightmare involving city red tape, squatters and cops shrugging off crime. // San Francisco Chronicle

Palo Alto council could use historic preservation to skirt SB9 lot-splitting law. // Mercury News

ACLU sues Fresno over fines in homeless camp cleanup law. // Fresno Bee

Students had nowhere to sleep, so a San Francisco school opened the gym. // The Guardian

Imprecise homeless youth count could result in loss of much-needed funds. // Capital & Main

Yosemite worker dies after California mobile home park closed. // Sacramento Bee

One way out: Oakley firms up escape routes for far eastern communities. // Mercury News

Ski resorts threatened by wildfires prepare to defend and rebuild. // Wall Street Journal

Commentary: San Francisco’s vacancy tax plan is doomed to fail for this completely unnecessary reason. // San Francisco Chronicle

‘We have many challenges in the Tenderloin and a rooster is now one of them.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow.

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