Lawmakers OK budget, despite ‘crappy’ parts
Rebates ranging from $200 to $1,050 are one step closer to landing in millions of Californians’ pockets after state lawmakers in marathon Wednesday night floor sessions passed a record-breaking $300 billion budget plan for the fiscal year beginning Friday.
Though heated and hours-long, the sessions were in many ways perfunctory: The supermajority-Democratic Legislature was all but guaranteed to sign off on the budget deal Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Sunday night.
- Atkins: “In any year, this would be a great budget. In a world where we’re facing global inflation and ongoing pandemic issues, this budget is as remarkable as it is responsible.”
Republicans reprised complaints, voiced in hasty Monday hearings, about an opaque budget process and controversial policies buried within lengthy “trailer bills” drafted in private, but their remarks largely went unheeded: Democrats control enough seats in the Legislature to approve budgets without a single GOP vote.
- State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Roseville Republican whose term ends this year: “I’m glad that this will be my last budget. … How did the budget come together? Behind closed doors. … I submit that that’s not a good process, mostly because it doesn’t include the citizens that we represent. … We’re letting them down when we don’t pay attention to them, and we largely don’t. We ignore them.”
- Even some Democrats said the process has shortcomings: “72 hours is not a lot of time to read a piece of legislation, and sometimes when bills come this quickly we have to play catch-up,” said state Sen. Henry Stern, a Calabasas Democrat.
Just as unsurprisingly, Senate Democrats rejected for the umpteenth time a Republican proposal to amend the budget to suspend California’s gas excise tax, which is scheduled to increase Friday by nearly 3 cents per gallon.
Republicans are expected to introduce the same amendment today in the Assembly — and will likely get support from Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who said Wednesday “the budget simply should have suspended the gas tax.”
One of the most controversial measures approved Wednesday night was a sweeping energy trailer bill that — as part of a contingency plan to avoid power shortages and rolling blackouts as California transitions to clean energy — could give PG&E millions of dollars to extend the life of the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant while also significantly expanding the authority of the state Department of Water Resources and prolonging the use of gas-powered plants.
- Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Torrance Democrat: “This is a crappy trailer bill that was dumped on us on late Sunday night and we have to vote on this three days later. This trailer is a rushed, unvetted and fossil-fuel-heavy response.” Nevertheless, Muratsuchi voted to support the bill.
- State Sen. Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican: “Even the governor and the individuals voting on this bill to pass it know … if we don’t have these gas-powered power plants to fire up when we need them, you will not be able to flip the switch and get electricity. So I was actually excited … that a vote on this bill realizes that you need fossil fuels. You do. You need ’em! … But I am opposed to it because I think it completely usurps local authority.”
- State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat: “There’s a lot of details here that have not been worked out. … But we have to be adults. We’re the adults in the room. If this is what we need to do to keep the energy sources and California’s lights on, then that’s what we need to do. Wish it would have been different, but those are the facts we’re faced with.”
For more on the contents of California’s massive budget, check out this comprehensive breakdown from the CalMatters team.
Amid the budget debate, lawmakers also sent a pile of gun control bills to Newsom’s desk, including one to ban the sale of firearms on state property, one to crack down on ghost guns, one to block companies from advertising certain firearms to minors, and another — inspired by Texas’ abortion ban — to give private Californians the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of certain illegal firearms and to collect at least $10,000 in civil damages per weapon.
In other Capitol updates: A number of high-profile bills failed to advance past key committees ahead of Friday’s deadline, rendering them dead for the year. They include:
- A union-backed bill, fiercely opposed by the music industry, that would have limited the damages a recording company can recover from music artists if they walk away from their contracts after seven years. (Still alive is a related bill that would ban movie producers from preventing actors from working for multiple employers at the same time.)
- A bill that would have created a new state agency to construct and manage social housing, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development defines as “the stock of residential rental accommodations provided at sub-market prices and allocated according to specific rules rather than according to market mechanisms.” Assemblymember Alex Lee, the San Jose Democrat who authored the bill, wrote on Twitter, “As we see recession on the horizon, private capital will slump, and home building and construction jobs will plummet. That’s why I remain committed to Social Housing — it is needed more than ever to fix our housing criss and provide strong middle-class jobs.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,378,193 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,516 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Ballot measure bonanza
If you liked the overview in yesterday’s newsletter of the measures that have qualified so far for California’s November ballot, you’ll find this explainer from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Sameea Kamal even more helpful: Not only does it offer a comprehensive breakdown of all of the initiatives on which you’ll likely be asked to vote — including those that haven’t yet formally qualified — it explains how they landed on the ballot on the first place, the role of special interest money, why measures can be so confusing and how California first ignited its passion for propositions. Check it out.
In other ballot measure news:
- With Assembly passage Wednesday night and a final vote in the Senate expected today on a legislative workaround to a ballot measure to reduce single-use plastics, the three signatories of the initiative said in a joint statement late Wednesday that they would withdraw it only if Newsom signs the bill, SB 54, into law. The announcement came hours after the American Chemistry Council, an influential industry group, expressed concerns with SB 54 but said the ballot measure would result in “a worse outcome for Californians.” If the initiative isn’t withdrawn, “our industry is resolved to educate voters of the tax measure’s flaws through a strong opposition campaign,” said Joshua Baca, the council’s vice president of plastics. The initiative signatories said the council’s statement reveals “that the hope and promise around SB 54 may quickly dissolve into what we have experienced from the plastics industry in the past: deception, blame and false promises.”
- The already heated fight over legalizing sports betting just got more intense: On Wednesday, two Native American tribes announced their support for an initiative — backed by gaming giants including FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM — to allow large companies to offer online betting in conjunction with a tribe. The measure is fiercely opposed by other tribes, some of whom are backing a rival initiative to allow tribal casinos and horse race tracks to offer in-person sports betting. Meanwhile, civil rights and labor leader Dolores Huerta threw her support behind the tribes’ measure, saying, “Tribal gaming has given California’s Indian tribes the resources to fight through generational poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement.”
2 CA embarks on massive health data mission
Envision a world in which you go to an appointment with a new doctor or case worker and they immediately pull up your full medical and social services history, helping to inform and coordinate your care — and, after the appointment, you’re able to easily access and view your own records. That’s the world California is trying to create with its new statewide data-sharing requirement for all health and human services providers — but, as CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports, not everyone is on board. Some providers are complaining about excessive requirements, while others — such as Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California — have raised concerns about data privacy and security, arguing patients should be allowed to choose whether their information is shared.
- Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary: “I can’t think of a thing on our list of huge transformations that won’t either depend on or benefit from this effort. All of these data systems having some ability to come together around the individual is going to accelerate … their ability to provide more comprehensive and coordinated services.”
But the perils of data collection were also made clear Tuesday, when the California Department of Justice removed a new database that had published the names, home addresses and other personal information of more than 240,000 applicants seeking a permit to carry a concealed gun. On Wednesday, Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office said the leak was larger than previously reported, encompassing anyone who was granted or denied a concealed-carry permit between 2011 and 2021. And Bonta’s office disclosed that data from the state’s gun violence restraining order dashboard and assault weapons registry, among others, had also been “impacted,” CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports. The office said it would provide credit monitoring services to anyone whose personal information was exposed, while Senate Republicans called for an investigation into the data breach.
- Bonta: “The unauthorized release of personal information is unacceptable and falls far short of my expectations for this department. I immediately launched an investigation into how this occurred … and will take strong corrective measures where necessary.”
- Republican attorney general candidate Nathan Hochman tweeted: “Rob Bonta’s improper and egregious leak of Concealed Carry Weapons permit data has endangered firearm permit holders statewide, such as judges, reserve officers and domestic violence victims.”
3 Catching up with EDD
Unemployed Californians temporarily won’t have to register on and upload their resume to a website called CalJOBS in order to be eligible for jobless benefits, as the vendor that operates the site has been experiencing a nationwide service outage since the beginning of the week, the state Employment Development Department announced Wednesday. CalJOBS — which helps Californians find jobs, write resumes and access training programs — is expected to remain down until after the Fourth of July holiday, according to the Sacramento Bee. The vendor, Geographic Solutions, Inc., is “working 24 hours a day to bring its systems back online as soon as possible,” EDD said. Noting that Californians are still required to look for work in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, the agency directed residents to a list of other job search resources.
Meanwhile, I obtained more details about the Newsom administration’s proclamation last week that EDD had recovered $1.1 billion in unemployment insurance funds from approximately 780,000 “inactivated benefit cards.” EDD spokesperson Gareth Lacy told me that “all the cards were likely fraudulent,” and the $1.1 billion was part of the $20 billion in suspected fraudulent claims EDD paid out amid the pandemic. Most of the money was returned to the federal government; Lacy said EDD doesn’t have “exact accounting” but likely more than 90% of the recovered funds were related to the federal government’s last round of pandemic unemployment benefits.
- In other employment news: Pandemic-induced job shuffling is sending mixed signals for California’s economic recovery, a panel of experts said during a Wednesday discussion hosted by CalMatters and the Milken Institute. CalMatters’ Lil Kalish breaks down other key takeaways from the event.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two California budget-related bills, one to tax lithium extraction and another to reduce taxes on marijuana, demonstrate the arbitrary nature of tax policy.
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