SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers delivered a stern rebuke to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday for his Coronavirus spending, saying he is sidestepping the Legislature in his decision to take an extra $1.8 billion from the state’s dwindling coffers.
In a letter to lawmakers late Thursday night, Newsom announced he was taking another $1.8 billion from the state’s general fund to pay for things like protective equipment and additional hospital beds. California Department of Finance Director Keely Martin Bosler says Newsom can spend the money, citing the state’s Emergency Services Act.
But lawmakers pushed back on Friday, with Assembly Budget Committee chairman Phil Ting noting things like cancer and heart disease kill many more people per year than Coronavirus.
“The governor does not have complete authority to do whatever he wants to fight those diseases,” said Ting, a San Francisco Democrat.
The dispute is part of a growing conflict at state Capitols across the country over how much power governors should have to spend money during a pandemic that has crippled the nation’s economy. Many legislatures have had to suspend their sessions during the pandemic to comply with state orders on physical distancing, meaning even less oversight for the executive branch. California’s Legislature missed about two months of work before returning this month.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from Lakewood, said he was on a phone call recently with about 35 other speakers from legislatures and “that theme was identical everywhere.”
“It was nearly unanimous. We all kind of feel like we want to slow things down,” he said. “Us coming back to town, I think, is the best thing to make that happen.”
The new spending Newsom announced Thursday will bring the state’s total to $5.7 billion since March, when he issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order.
Newsom, a Democrat, has also asked the Democratic-controlled Legislature for an additional $2.9 billion to spend as he pleases should a second wave of Coronavirus cases hit the state this fall when lawmakers are not in session.