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California Senate sings the budget blues

Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year during a press briefing at the California Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento on Jan. 10, 2023.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveils his budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year during a press briefing at the California Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento on Jan. 10, 2023.

In its first formal response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $297 billion spending plan, the Legislature offered some pointed feedback on Wednesday: The governor’s fiscal forecasters are being too optimistic and the state needs to prepare for a worsening budgetary outlook.

But Newsom shouldn’t cut climate spending. Or mental health programs. And especially not anything related to housing.

Nobody said balancing a budget during economic lean times would be easy.

Remember: Last week Newsom rolled out his pared down fiscal framework meant to bridge a projected $22.5 billion shortfall with cuts and delays to climate, public health and transit programs, plus a bit of fancy financial footwork.

Putting in a word for frugality at Wednesday’s Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee: The Legislative Analyst’s Office, the nonpartisan number-cruncher that issued its initial review of the governor’s plan last week.

Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek urged lawmakers to consider $14 billion in additional cuts and delays to one-time and temporary spending programs.

The senators, most of them Democrats, didn’t take issue with that recommendation. Still, they complained about the cuts that Newsom did include:

  • Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, also a Democrat from Los Angeles, urged the governor to provide more funding for workforce development to “recession proof” the economy.
  • First-term Democratic Sen. Caroline Menjivar of Van Nuys asked Newsom’s deputy budget director Erika Li why the administration wasn’t providing more funding for counties to set up their CARE courts after Los Angeles County announced that it would begin rolling out the new judicial system for those with severe mental illnessa year early.

In response, Li said that the administration hoped to backfill some of these cuts with federal money courtesy of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

And anyhow, she stressed, this is just the beginning of a months-long haggling session between the branches of government until the final budget is approved in June.

  • Li: “The governor’s budget is always the starting point for discussions…We look forward to having more discussions on this — and on all — aspects of the budget.”

One budgetary critique in particular might be on Newsom’s mind today as he accompanies President Joe Biden, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Sen. Alex Padilla on a disaster tour of the water-logged Santa Cruz Mountains and the Central Coast.

Sen. John Laird, a Salinas Democrat, pointed to the recentdevastation along the coast of his district and questioned why the governor’s budget cut spending for coastal protection and planning by 43%.

  • Laird: “What do you actually rebuild? What don’t you rebuild? What do you have to consider in stepping back from the ocean? So the major pot that was cut was planning money for local governments to answer these questions.”

Biden’s visit comes a day after the White House made federal disaster assistance available to residents, business owners and governments in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Last week, the administration offered help to Merced, Santa Cruz and Sacramento counties.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.