California Governor Gavin Newsom rolled out an ambitious $222 billion spending plan for 2020-21 that expands the state’s role in attacking a number of vexing issues, including wildfires, the housing shortage, and the ever-escalating homelessness crisis.
“I’m very proud to be a Californian. I’m proud of this state. And I’m proud of the budget that we are presenting today,” Newsom said, adding, “I am not naive about the areas where we’re falling short.”
He spoke to reporters for nearly three hours Friday, expounding on a dizzying array of priorities in a budget he termed “cautious,” but one that reflects $153 billion in new spending.
“The budget we are sending today is a balanced budget,” Newsom said of the proposed spending plan while acknowledging the state’s obligation to pay down nearly $200 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. “We’ve got to get serious about those long-term obligations and we are getting serious about them.”
Newsom also touted the state’s health reserves, saying he expects the so-called “rainy day fund” to hit $19 billion by 2022. He noted California has three other reserve accounts to draw from, including one for the public school system.
The bulk of the state’s spending this year will go to health care and education. This year, Newsom’s budget package proposes an additional $3.8 billion for K-12 education and community colleges.
Newsom also pledged to $900 million in grants for recruiting and training teachers in low-income school districts, an effort he said will provide economic incentives to get qualified teachers into high-poverty classrooms to raise the achievement gap.
“We are addressing the teacher issue in a way we haven’t done in the past,” he said.
He also signaled a move toward universal preschool and “affordable” child care, devoting $5 million toward that goal, as well as expanding paid family leave from six to eight weeks. “We will get all income-eligible four-year-olds universal preschool in the state of California,” he said.
Newsom’s spending plan also calls for an $80.5 million MediCal expansion for seniors over 65 regardless of immigration status.
Even more ambitious plans were leaked earlier this week ahead of the budget’s official release, including more than $1 billion for housing subsidies and health care for the homeless. The budget also includes $1.4 billion by 2022 to expand Medi-Cal to provide more preventative care and mental health services for the homeless.
By executive order issued Tuesday, Newsom established the California Access to Housing and Services Fund in the state’s social services department to pay rent for homeless people and find them stable housing. It also ordered the Department of General Services to supply 100 camp trailers as a means of temporary housing. Newsom said those should be ready by March.
“I’m the homeless czar in the state of California,” Newsom said, adding the state would appreciate more help from the federal government but will be “moving ahead aggressively” regardless. “We’re going to start hitting on all cylinders.”
Addressing the state’s related housing shortage, Newsom’s budget promises $17 billion over the next five years for affordable housing production.
— By Maria Dinzeo