In summary

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said they’re interested in another round of stimulus payments. Rendon expressed concern about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed gas tax holiday.

It’s not every day that the two leaders of the California Legislature sit down together to discuss their priorities and issues on their minds.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins had plenty to say in an event today hosted by the Sacramento Press Club – on the state budget, single-payer healthcare and more.

Here are some quick takeaways:

Budget and taxes

A question likely on many Californians’ minds: Will there be another stimulus payment?

That wasn’t a part of the budget proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled last month, or the package of emergency relief bills he signed last week. But Rendon and Atkins said another stimulus should be part of the “vibrant” discussion on the budget, which is finalized in June. 

Whether or not there’s a direct stimulus payment, the Democratic-controlled Legislature plans to invest in programs, such as childcare and healthcare, that help working-class Californians, Atkins said. 

While Rendon acknowledged that stimulus payments could drive even more inflation, he and Atkins said they’re focused on boosting “left behind” residents. “I’m certainly concerned about inflation, but at the same time I know that there are bread-and-butter everyday issues that Californians are suffering from on a daily basis,” he said. 


Another area of concern is a proposal that is in Newsom’s budget: A gas tax “holiday” by pausing the gasoline and diesel fuel tax inflation-related increases scheduled to go into effect in July. 

Suspending the gas tax could impact funding for transit operations, road maintenance and construction, Rendon said.

“I think that’s something that could potentially jeopardize a tremendous amount of jobs in the state. It could inhibit some economic growth in certain sectors in this state,” Rendon said. 

“If we’re going to halt the gas tax, we want to make sure that we have a sense of what that means to our state and to our economy.”  

The California Senate Republican Caucus, however, argued that the $523 million in gas tax revenue at issue could easily be covered by the state’s budget surplus. “California drivers are paying record-setting prices at the pump while the state sits on a record-setting surplus,” Senate GOP Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita said in a statement. “Sacramento Democrats are tone deaf if they think people don’t need a break at the pump.” 

Ballot measures

Atkins and Rendon said they expect some kind of recall reform measure to be on the November ballot, following last year’s failed effort to remove Newsom that cost taxpayers $200 million

“It’s costly, it’s a waste of time, so we’re looking to make some changes,” Rendon said.

They were unwilling, however, to back any specifics, leaving that to legislative committees that have been holding hearings. The Little Hoover Commission and others have also proposed changes. Atkins noted that hearings are underway to gauge the public’s view on signature collection and other parts of the recall process. 

Zig Jiang, 47, carries a sign calling for a recall on California Gov. Gavin Newsom on a bridge overlooking the 101 Freeway, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Zig Jiang, 47, carries a sign calling for the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom on a bridge overlooking the 101 Freeway on Sept. 8, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

At the same time, Atkins and Rendon expressed interest in keeping some competing sports betting measures off the ballot. The speaker said that the Legislature could play a role in getting the key parties to compromise. 

“I do think that our thoughtful and deliberative process is really the best way of developing public policy,” Rendon said. “You see so many times when ballot measures are hurried through the process and get thrown out by the courts. I think we do a good job of vetting and making sure that all of our t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.” 

At this point, the November ballot could include as many as four measures on the lucrative sports betting market. Online giants DraftKings and FanDuel have sunk $100 million into one measure, but a group of Native American tribes announced earlier this week that they plan to oppose it with a similar bankroll. Tribes are backing another measure for in-person sports betting at their casinos. 

“I think it’s always confusing to the voters when there’s multiple ballot measures along the same item,” Atkins said. “If you want to see progress, it’s helpful for it to be more simple. So I think maybe there will be an opportunity. Clearly, it’s a longer conversation.” 

Single-payer healthcare

The latest attempt at a single-payer healthcare system in California died without a vote last month in the Assembly. 

Atkins called the idea a “moonshot,” but said enough support in the Legislature is getting closer.  

Rendon said while he was disappointed that Assembly Bill 1400 didn’t come up for a vote, he was not going to force the author, Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose, to act. The speaker also said while he can lobby lawmakers, he can’t force them to support a bill.  

“Our power is not omnipotent,” Rendon said.

“It’s up to us to make the case, and we’ve got work to do,” Atkins said. 

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Toni Atkins

Toni Atkins

State Senate, District 39 (San Diego)

Toni Atkins

State Senate, District 39 (San Diego)

How she voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 39 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 46%
GOP 23%
No party 24%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Toni Atkins has taken at least $1.9 million from the Labor sector since she was elected to the legislature. That represents 19% of her total campaign contributions.

Anthony Rendon

Anthony Rendon

State Assembly, District 62 (Lakewood)

Anthony Rendon

State Assembly, District 62 (Lakewood)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 62 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 57%
GOP 15%
No party 22%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Anthony Rendon has taken at least $3.1 million from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 26% of his total campaign contributions.

Crime concerns

Recent polls, including one out this week, show growing voter concern with crime and public safety. 

Atkins and Rendon said they share their constituents’ worries, but don’t believe that will necessarily hurt Democrats in this year’s election. 

“We can’t just jail our way out of crime. We tried that for a generation.”

assembly speaker anthony rendon

One of those issues includes Proposition 47, the 2014 voter-backed measure that increased the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting from $400 to $950. Atkins noted that the proposition was upheld by voters in 2020, but said she was willing to review any legislation that comes forward to reform the measure. 

She and Rendon also agreed that putting more people in prison is not the solution. “We can’t just jail our way out of crime,” Rendon said. “We tried that for a generation.”

Instead, Rendon said he hoped investing in social safety net programs would reduce crime.

“We can’t just be tough on crime. We need to be smart on crime.”

Housing and homelessness

Both Atkins and Rendon said they still want to do more on affordable housing.

Atkins defended Senate Bill 9, her bill passed last year that ended most single-family zoning and allowed duplexes on single-family lots. She called it a “moderate” step to increase housing supply with “gentle density.” 

But local governments across the state have resisted. For instance, Woodside tried to skirt the law by claiming the entire town was a mountain lion habitat. Atkins thanked Attorney General Rob Bonta for stepping in quickly to stop the move. 

“We are going to have to push back,” she said. “Change is hard.”

‘Great Resignation’

Rendon called the unusual exodus of legislators a tremendous opportunity to elevate new leaders and bring fresh energy. But he acknowledged that five vacant seats in the Assembly make it more difficult to push through contentious legislation.  

“How many bills pass by one, two, three votes? Losing five members, that’s real,” the speaker said.

While most of the churn has been in the Assembly, Atkins said that the strains of the COVID pandemic has more legislators thinking of their families and quality of life, so she understands why some are choosing not to seek reelection.  

Staff complaints

Both legislative leaders said they support efforts by state Capitol staff members to unionize. Rendon said he is anticipating that a bill will come forward. 

Their comments came after both confirmed they were aware of an Instagram account, now inactive, that collected anonymous allegations about workplace misconduct and pay issues among Capitol staff. The account included a disclaimer that none of the messages received had been vetted, but they shared several themes: staffers who said they were asked to work well beyond normal hours, had to pay for some lawmakers’ smaller expenses out of their own pockets and allegations of drunken misconduct or sexually inappropriate interactions

Atkins and Rendon noted that they’d attempted to reform the culture through a workplace conduct unit, but that not all of the initiatives – including pay equity and professional development – were on track due to the pandemic. 

“We’re taking all these matters very seriously,” Rendon said. 

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Sameea Kamal is a reporter at CalMatters covering the state Capitol and California politics. She joined CalMatters in June 2021 from the Los Angeles Times, where she was a News Desk editor. Sameea was...