SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proposed a $268 billion state budget that is one-third larger than the state’s current spending plan, fueled by surging state tax revenues and federal stimulus money.
He said the windfall that produced a $76 billion surplus provides a chance for the most populous state to come “roaring back” from a year mired in the pandemic — to not just recover but to improve basic infrastructure and social programs while rewarding poor and middle-class residents with cash payments.
The first-term Democrat called his spending plan an “unprecedented generational and transformational budget.” He said the state’s nearly 40 million residents showed remarkable resiliency during the pandemic and that “set the state up for not just a comeback, but an extraordinary decade, arguably century ahead.”
State Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron said the surplus shows California’s taxes are too high.
“This budget will certainly do some temporary good, but it fails to seriously address any of the long-term structural problems facing the state and it does nothing to lower the cost of living for hard-working Californians,” she said. “I urge the governor to focus on fixing long-standing problems instead of short-term political promises.”
State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, whose district includes the Antelope Valley, also was critical of the budget.
“The governor has been channeling Oprah all week — where every studio audience member gets a new car,” Wilk said. “Unfortunately in about 18 months — when the money runs out — the car will be repossessed. Gavin’s ‘Recall Revision’ is a real-life version of ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ Behind door number three — the tax bill.”
The timing for the flood of revenue couldn’t be better for Newsom, who is likely to face a recall in the fall that’s fueled by criticism of his handling of the coronavirus. He spent the last four days touting elements of the budget ahead of revealing the full plan on Friday.
His plan includes a tax rebate for 11 million people who would get direct payments of up to $1,100. He also set aside $7.2 billion to pay off people’s outstanding rent and utility bills.
There’s $6 billion on water and drought issues, $8.75 billion to create 46,000 housing units for the homeless and a plan to have all four-year-olds in California could go to school for free, while also pledging $5 billion to create after-school and summer school programs for districts with high concentrations of underprivileged students.
Newsom also said he wants to create a third polytechnic state university to join existing schools in Pomona and San Luis Obispo.
There’s $35 million over five years to pay for “universal basic income pilot programs.” It’s believed to be the first statewide funding for such programs, which are gaining traction in cities.
It’s built on the idea of giving lower-income people a set amount of money each month to ease the stresses of poverty that make it harder for people to find full-time jobs and stay healthy. Critics say free money provides a disincentive to work.
The governor also included money to give Medicaid benefits to people 60 and older living in the country illegally. California already pays for health care for children and adults up to age 26 in that immigration category.
Newsom also announced Friday that the state will use $300 million of the surplus to forgive traffic fines for low-income residents, with details to be worked out by lawmakers and the state’s Judicial Council.
The state will pay off the fines going back before the pandemic, though he said the program was intended to help those who suffered economically during the related economic shutdown. It will cover fines only through this June 30.
Newsom said he wants to spend $11 billion to build what his office termed “a modernized transportation system for the next century.” That includes not only repairing decayed roads and bridges, but more spending for the state’s troubled bullet train, other public transportation, the state’s ocean ports, and projects around the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.