History will remember 2021 as the year when a windfall of government
spending sought to address years of inequality, poverty and a growing
population left behind.

Trillions of dollars were spent by the federal government, but California’s state government, facing the nation’s highest poverty rate, also saw an unprecedented budget surplus that the state’s supermajority Democrats used to expand health and education programs as well as climate change efforts and assistance for the poor

It was quite a whipsaw from the previous year when California locked up tighter than most states during the pandemic and lawmakers saw a massive budget deficit. It turned out, though, that Wall Street continued to do quite well, helping send California more than $100 billion in unanticipated state and federal funds in 2021. Gov. Gavin Newsom touted the new spending as the “California Comeback Plan” that will “pay dividends for generations to come.”

This will also be remembered as the year we learned to live more routinely with the pandemic. The coronavirus still loomed large in the first half of the year with a record high 17% positivity rate in January. Instead of a joint session of the Legislature, Newsom gave his annual State of the State address to an empty Dodger Stadium, symbolizing the number of California lives lost to COVID (54,000) and the site of a newly-opened mass vaccination center.

In the second half of the year, many restrictions on indoor dining and large
public gatherings were lifted. Most schools resumed at least some level of in-
person instruction. More than 75% of Californians were vaccinated and the
positivity rate dropped to about 2%. But while the economy climbed back from
the depths of the pandemic, recovering 63% of the jobs lost, it still lagged.

For just the second time in history, an attempt to recall the governor qualified for the ballot in 2021. This time it was unsuccessful. And climate change continued to alter life in California with another year of devastating wildfires coupled with an unprecedented drought.

The journalists at CalMatters followed these and many other California state government issues closely this year, listening to experiences from neighborhoods, schools and farms and questioning elected leaders, advocates and experts.

CalMatters’ 2021-2022 Primer about state politics and policy is a collection of what we saw and learned.

We hope it helps you understand a bit more about your state and that it informs or even inspires your participation in our democracy.

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Co-Founder David Lesher is a veteran California journalist and state policy expert. He co-founded CalMatters in 2015 and led the organization as Editor/CEO until December 2018, when he continued to serve...