‘Governor Dad’ Newsom budgets tax breaks for diapers, focuses on families

California’s generational changing of the guard showed in the governor’s office on Tuesday as Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled out proposals to lift taxes on diapers and menstrual products—ideas his predecessor vetoed—and reiterated his desire to spend billions of dollars from the state budget to expand services for kids.

Joined by his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and several female legislators, Newsom cast the proposals as actions to help California families while making good on a major theme of his gubernatorial campaign. Doing more for the youngest Californians is not only a policy agenda for the new governor, but also an opportunity for him to build a political image that highlights his own status as a parent of four children.

Fatherhood—and an interest in the public policies that impact parenting—have emerged as a stark contrast between Newsom, who is 51, and former Gov. Jerry Brown, 81, both Democrats. Brown, who once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, is childless.

“There is nothing more important we can do than support parents,” Newsom said. “It’s part of a larger agenda you’re going to hear a lot more from us about.”

Newsom’s new proposals include doubling the tax credit for families with children under age 6, expanding the number of low-income Californians who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and spending $80.5 million of the taxes reaped from legal marijuana sales on childcare.

He’s also calling for giving parents a longer paid leave to care for a new baby—though the proposal is more modest than he envisioned in January when he said he wants all babies in California to be cared for by a parent or other family member for the first 6 months of life.

The new proposal calls for giving California workers 8 weeks of paid family leave, up from the current six weeks, starting in July of next year. He did not announce the cost of the 2-week expansion, but said it’s being paid for by reducing the amount of required reserve funds in the account that pays for the program.

Newsom said he’s still exploring ways California can eventually get to the 6-month plan (or 3 months of leave for each parent in a two-parent family).

“These are all stretch goals,” he said. “We can’t do everything overnight.”

Newsom is sticking with proposals from his January budget to expand public preschools, lengthen the school day for kindergartners and give grants to college students who are raising children.

The announcements came as Newsom prepares to unveil the annual May revision of his state budget proposal, one step in the tango between the governor and the Legislature that will result in a final budget in June. The state budget is flush, with analysts predicting a surplus that could reach $21 billion. That means a lot of money for Democrats to fight over.

Brown frequently used his budget announcements to tamp down the ambitions of legislative Democrats who wanted to spend more. Newsom, less than five months into the job, is still finding his way in relation to the Legislature in which Democrats hold a historically large majority.

That super-big-tent majority reflects a wide range of political priorities that could pose challenges for Newsom. Some Democrats want to spend even more than he does—on health care for undocumented immigrants and public preschool. Other Democrats, many from swing districts, don’t want to support taxes Newsom has proposed to pay for cleaning up polluted drinking water.

Newsom is scheduled to release the rest of his May revision on Thursday.

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