Newsom wary of lawmaker-approved budget
Depending on whom you ask, the $300-billion-plus budget bill California lawmakers passed on Monday either was developed largely behind closed doors, ignores the state’s biggest problems and fails to provide urgent relief amid skyrocketing inflation — or offered ample opportunity for public input, makes historic investments in vital programs and ensures the neediest residents will receive financial help as quickly as possible.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first perspective was voiced by Republicans — who have virtually no say in California’s budget process — and the second by Democrats, who control a supermajority of seats in the state Legislature and don’t need GOP votes to pass a spending plan.
But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t seem too impressed with the budget, either — even though Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Democrat who leads the Senate budget committee, said it was 95% in alignment with the governor’s own blueprint.
- Anthony York, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications, said in a statement: “Governor Newsom would like to see more immediate, direct relief to help millions more families with rising gas, groceries and rent prices. … The Governor remains opposed to massive ongoing spending” — an especially sharp dig at lawmakers — “and wants a budget that pays down more of the state’s long-term debts and puts more money into state reserves. The legislative proposal is also silent on the Governor’s plan to shore up our state’s energy supply to ensure we can continue to keep the lights on as California wrestles with more extreme heat and weather.”
- Still, as CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff notes, the Legislature’s proposal puts about $700 million more into reserves for the upcoming fiscal year than does Newsom’s own May budget plan.
- But H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, said Newsom’s May blueprint proposes $4 billion more in supplemental reserve deposits through the 2025-26 fiscal year than does the Legislature.
The debate won’t end anytime soon, as the budget is far from final. The framework lawmakers approved Monday simply allows them to meet their Wednesday deadline for passing a spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — and thus avoid missing their paychecks.
They still have to negotiate key details with Newsom, such as how to spend a $21 billion climate package, Alexei reports. And they have to resolve key differences: Neither side has publicly budged an inch on competing proposals to send rebates to Californians struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.
As they reach compromises with Newsom, lawmakers will amend their spending plan by passing what are known as budget “trailer bills.” These measures are drafted behind closed doors and can include major policy changes with little to no relationship to the budget, as CalMatters columnist Dan Walters has written.
- Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican and vice-chairperson of the Assembly Budget Committee, said Monday: “Let’s be honest — at best, this budget is incomplete. In the coming months we will have more budget bills, bills that will magically appear without transparency, without accountability, without public input. Transparency requires more public participation, more hearings and discussions.”
- GOP state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama: “These days … we do a lot of things with just the majority party dictating. That’s OK — but it’s really not. Because who is cut out of the budget? The same people who are cut out of our legislative process: the people of California. They have no idea what’s going on here.”
Democrats, however, pushed back on the notion that California’s budget process shuts out public participation.
- State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles said the budget subcommittee she leads held 13 well-attended public hearings: “We had hundreds and hundreds of Californians call in, come in person, and I want to thank every one of those Californians very, very much for the time that they took to participate and to give us the ideas that they have for the way that we should spend our money.”
- Fong, the Bakersfield Republican, said on the Assembly floor: “These dollars, I’d like to remind all the members, are the hard-earned money of Californians. It is not Sacramento’s money.”
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
Former State Senate, District 4 (Modesto)
María Elena Durazo
State Senate, District 26 (Los Angeles)
State Senate, District 26 (Los Angeles)
Time in office
Union Vice President
Sen. María Elena Durazo has taken at least $1.4 million from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 54% of her total campaign contributions.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 9,106,031 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 91,006 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.
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1 Budget battles persist on other fronts
As budget negotiations continue, California’s unemployment department — perhaps best-known for paying at least $20 billion in fraudulent claims during the pandemic — is pushing for more funds to boost its fraud prevention and investigation efforts and increase staffing. From November 2021 to April 2022, amid a massive influx in disability insurance claims linked to fraudulent medical providers, the Employment Development Department’s disability insurance branch answered an average of less than half of calls from unique phone numbers — down from about 80% between May and October 2021, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. To sift through the mountain of claims, verify identities, and handle the surge of calls, the branch’s roughly 1,000 staff members worked 22,000 hours of overtime per month from December 2021 to May 2022. Meanwhile, Californians applying for disability benefits were left in the lurch.
- Manar Hassan, a Pacific Grove mother who applied for benefits shortly after giving birth: “I take pride in living in California. I always tell my friends about how progressive California is. But when you’re trying to actually get paid, and you basically have to beg for your money, it’s just — it’s hard.”
Also seeking more funding: advocates who say the state’s plan to extend food assistance benefits to undocumented immigrants 55 and older doesn’t go far enough, CalMatters’ Melissa Montalvo and Jeanne Kuang report.
- Betzabel Estudillo, a senior advocate with Nourish California: “We need to be able to cover a whole family unit. It’s not the equitable thing to do to exclude some family members from food assistance.”
2 Death threats and hate: CA’s weekend
The highly politicized, volatile and violent atmosphere that seems to be blanketing the nation was evident in three California incidents this weekend:
- State Sen. Scott Wiener received a death threat deemed credible enough by law enforcement that officers and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the Democrat’s San Francisco home on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The handwritten note, laced with sexual obscenities, warned that Wiener, an openly gay man, “will die today” from “bombs in his office and his house.” No bombs were found, though law enforcement said investigations are ongoing. Wiener, who is carrying several high-profile and controversial bills this session — including one to allow kids 12 and older to receive vaccines without parental consent and another to protect out-of-state transgender youth and their families — noted on Twitter, “I receive lots of death threats & have for years. They’re mostly about our civil rights work for LGBTQ people & people with HIV. I’ll keep fighting, death threats notwithstanding.” The threat came during Pride Month, dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ people and furthering the fight for gay rights.
- On Saturday, a group of apparent right-wing protesters disrupted a Pride event at a San Lorenzo library where a drag queen was hosting a story hour with preschoolers, KQED reports. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident as a potential hate crime, noting that the men — who they believe are members of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate organization whose leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol — yelled homophobic and transphobic slurs, “were verbally and physically aggressive” and harassed children.
- Also Saturday, Anders Fung, the first Chinese immigrant elected to Millbrae’s city council, was assaulted while hiking with his family at San Francisco’s Lands End, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Fung said assailants flung a concrete block at his head, resulting in a gash that required six metal stitches to close, and made “an obscene hand gesture” that suggested the attack was racially motivated. California has seen a significant uptick in reported anti-Asian hate incidents amid the pandemic, as CalMatters has reported.
3 Fires spark in Southern California
Yet another heat wave is expected to start spreading across California today, exacerbating the risk of wildfires in a state bone-dry from prolonged drought. But some parts of the state have yet to recover from the weekend heat wave: Hundreds of residents living in remote parts of Southern California were forced to evacuate amid blazes fueled by dry winds. As of Monday afternoon, nearly 700 firefighters were attacking the Sheep Fire in Angeles National Forest, which was about 18% contained and whose smoke was beginning to affect air quality.
- Dana Dierkes, a spokeswoman for Angeles National Forest: “We’re facing a challenging battle with heavy fuels, high and erratic winds and dry vegetation.”
- ICYMI: CalMatters’ Julie Cart just published a jaw-dropping investigation, Trial by Fire, exposing the mental health challenges firefighters are facing as blazes intensify and California’s fire season grows longer.
Also Monday, a nearly 50-mile portion of Highway 70 in Butte and Plumas counties was closed after flash floods and mudslides in the burn scar of the Dixie Fire — the second-largest blaze in state history — loosed boulders, debris and dead trees into the road. There is currently no estimated time for reopening, state officials said on Facebook.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s top-two primary election system marked its 10th anniversary last week. Has it worked as promised?
California should protect Joshua trees: The state Fish and Game Commission should list western Joshua trees under the California Endangered Species Act, safeguarding the trees and offering proof of our commitment to fighting climate change, argues Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Joshua tree protection could hinder climate goals: Listing it as a threatened species could make clean energy projects infeasible in California when we need as much renewable power as possible, argues Ethan Elkind of the UC Berkeley School of Law.
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