In summary

A group of California lawmakers have another gas rebate plan amid budget negotiations with Newsom, but suspending the gas tax may be a no-go.

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A group of California lawmakers on Thursday churned out the latest idea for putting money back in the pockets of residents struggling with sky-high gas prices — but despite the growing pile of proposals, a consensus seems as elusive as ever.

The bipartisan California Problem Solvers Caucus‘ plan: suspend the state’s gas excise tax for one year, ensure 100% of the savings are passed on to consumers, and use part of the state’s massive budget surplus to replace the lost tax revenue for vital infrastructure projects.

  • Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat: “The most important takeaway from this announcement … is that there is now a proposal in California to suspend the gas tax with bipartisan support.”
  • But, as Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita was quick to point out, his caucus had proposed the very same idea last year. “While bipartisan support is welcome, it only matters if the Democrats can help us get the proposal across the finish line,” he said.
  • And it’s unclear if they can. Alex Stack, a spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom, told me in a statement “there’s no guarantee under this proposal that the benefits will be passed on to Californians who’ve been paying more at the pump, and not just go back to oil companies and corporations.”

Furthermore, the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate have made it abundantly clear that suspending gas taxes isn’t their preferred form of relief.

  • To implement Newsom’s proposal to suspend July’s scheduled increase to the gas and diesel excise tax, lawmakers would need to pass it by Sunday. But the Legislature has yet to introduce any bills on the matter.
  • Stack: “It is clear now that the Legislature will not act in time to provide that immediate, limited relief.”
  • Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told me earlier this week: “We stand ready to act as soon as the governor joins us in supporting a plan that provides stronger relief for California families.”

Top Senate Democrats unveiled their own relief plan as part of a larger budget blueprint Thursday, about two weeks before Newsom is slated to present a revised version of his January budget proposal. Lawmakers and the governor must agree on a budget framework by June 15 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

  • Senate Democrats’ pitch: $8 billion in cash rebates, in the form of $200 checks to individuals earning less than $125,000 and each taxpayer and child in families earning less than $250,000.
  • Their budget blueprint also projects California will have a whopping $68 billion surplus — significantly more than the record $45.7 billion surplus Newsom’s administration predicted in January. The Associated Press has more details on their spending proposals.
  • Atkins: This budget means “we’re able to help even more people, bolster their ability to achieve their dreams, and ensure there will be both resources and a more equitable system in place now, and for future generations of Californians.”

… Maybe. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which advises state lawmakers on fiscal issues, recently reported that in more than 95% of the 10,000 possible revenue and economic scenarios analyzed by the office, “the state faces a budget problem by 2025-26.”

  • Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek wrote this week: “The central implication of our findings is stark and suggests that in the interest of fiscal resilience, the Legislature should consider rejecting a substantial portion of the governor’s January spending proposals.”

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California has administered 74,815,999 vaccine doses, and 75.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Bonta ramps up environmental action

Assemblymember Rob Bonta speaks at a press conference in Alameda on March 16, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Then-Assemblymember Rob Bonta speaks at a press conference in Alameda on March 16, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Attorney General Rob Bonta is taking things up a notch: On Thursday, hours after he joined 15 states, the District of Columbia and other entities in suing the U.S. Postal Service for the “faulty environmental review” behind its plan to buy a new fleet of mostly gas-powered vehicles, he announced that his office had subpoenaed ExxonMobil. The legal action is part of a larger, “first-of-its-kind” probe into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries’ alleged role in driving a global crisis in plastic waste pollution.

  • Bonta: “For more than half a century, the plastics industry has engaged in an aggressive campaign to deceive the public, perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis. The truth is: The vast majority of plastic cannot be recycled, and the recycling rate has never surpassed 9%. Every week, we consume the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic through the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe.”
  • As CalMatters’ environment reporter Nadia Lopez notes, most plastics are sourced from fossil fuel chemicals and don’t fully erode. Instead, they dissolve into smaller pieces called microplastics, which leach toxic chemicals that endanger human health, pollute oceans and natural habitats and poison wildlife. New research published Tuesday by UC Davis scientists found that microplastics also help spread germs, contaminating fish and the humans and other animals that eat them.

Other environmental news you should know:

  • The Newsom administration unveiled an “Extreme Heat Action Plan” to help the state respond to increasingly hotter temperatures.
  • And the board of directors for California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project certified the final environmental report for a 90-mile track between San Jose and Merced — bringing that section “closer to being ‘shovel ready’ for when pre-construction and construction funding becomes available.” Nearly 400 miles of the 500 mile-system have now been environmentally cleared, with construction underway along 119 miles in the Central Valley, according to the high-speed rail authority.

2. Levine/Lara face-off heats up

Assemblyman Marc Levine speaks at a press conference in American Canyon on October 30, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Assemblymember Marc Levine speaks at a press conference in American Canyon on October 30, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Bonta’s flurry of activity comes as he gears up for the June 7 primary election, where he’ll compete against four other attorney general candidates for a spot in the top-two general election in November. If you’re looking for a quick, easy way to compare and contrast their stances on key issues, check out CalMatters’ newly released attorney general candidate face-off video — and don’t forget to bookmark our Voter Guide.

In other election news: Democratic Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael, one of the insurance commissioner candidates running against Democratic incumbent Ricardo Lara, secured two key endorsements Thursday from the Los Angeles Times and Mercury News/East Bay Times editorial boards. Both boards slammed Lara for a variety of scandals — which you can read more about in CalMatters’ Voter Guide — and argued Levine would better protect Californians living in fire-prone areas from losing their home insurance.

2022 Election

Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California

3. Mental health $$ for youngest kids

Elizabeth Lomeli reads to her daughter, Gisselle, at their home in Pacoima on April 23, 2022. Photo by Da'Shaunae Marisa for CalMatters
Elizabeth Lomeli reads to her daughter, Gisselle, at their home in Pacoima on April 23, 2022. Photo by Da’Shaunae Marisa for CalMatters

California is funneling billions of dollars into overhauling its youth mental health system — but little has been specifically dedicated to children 5 and younger, prompting more than 400 organizations to urge Newsom to include $250 million in his revised state budget for the mental health needs of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their parents and caregivers, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. According to advocacy group Children Now, at least 43% of kids under 5 covered by Medi-Cal — the state’s health care program for the poor — have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, such as violence, abuse or neglect.

In other youth-related news: Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, said Thursday that he plans to ask the school board at its May 10 meeting to delay the district’s student COVID vaccine mandate until July 1, 2023 at the earliest — a move that would align it with the state’s recently postponed timeline.

On the other end of the educational spectrum: California community college enrollment has dropped by about a fifth during the pandemic, with more than 300,000 fewer students enrolled in fall 2021 compared to fall 2019. But why are students leaving, and where they did go? CalMatters’ College Journalism Network profiled some of the students who dropped out — and explored how their decision to leave community college sent them down new paths.

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CalMatters commentary

Prioritize primary care: Health coverage isn’t the same as quality health care. California needs to strengthen primary care, which puts patients at the center of care and helps keep health care costs affordable, write Dr. Alice Hm Chen and Dr. Julia Logan, chief medical officers of Covered California and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, respectively.

Other things worth your time

Southern California’s first union Starbucks stores could be only weeks away as workers begin crucial vote. // LAist

A revolt is brewing at Prince Harry’s Silicon Valley gig BetterUp. // Daily Beast

Up to a $30,000 raise in works for S.F. child care and preschool workers. // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland poised to pay more than $400,000 to settle disputes with two former top officials. // San Francisco Chronicle

Account of Sheriff Villanueva lying in a cover-up revealed. // Los Angeles Times

Bakersfield billboards say Rep. Kevin McCarthy should ‘stop lying.’ // Washington Post

Why California wants to recall its most progressive prosecutors. // The Atlantic

Santa Clara County sheriff denies corruption over gun permits. // Mercury News

He caught the Golden State Killer, but the obsession took a toll. // Washington Post

Beverly Hills developer agrees to plead guilty in bribery scheme. // Los Angeles Times

‘They shot everybody in there.’ These bystanders rushed to help at crime scenes. // San Diego Union-Tribune

A former judge leads plan to overhaul California’s juvenile justice system. // EdSource

San Diego leaders want removal of gang graffiti prioritized. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Will Biden administration use its billions to fix Golden Gate Bridge? // Sacramento Bee

Homelessness officials seek $16 million to improve services in run-down SROs after investigation. // San Francisco Chronicle

A clash over housing pits UC Berkeley against its neighbors. // New Yorker

Camp Fire victims’ homes still not rebuilt by contractors. // Sacramento Bee

PG&E revenue, profits rise after utility charges more on monthly bills. // Mercury News

Is Florida’s solar bill a preview of what may happen in California? // San Diego Union-Tribune

California sunshine could be key to combating drought. // Time

L.A. backs new restrictions on plastic and waste. // Los Angeles Times

California regulators banned fracking wastewater for irrigation, but allow wastewater from oil drilling. // Inside Climate News

California salmon are being moved to a cool creek for first time in a century, in the hopes of saving them. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco is one of the ‘rattiest cities in America.’ Will rat birth control help? // San Francisco Chronicle

See you Monday.

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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...