By Emily Hoeven, CalMatters
Depending on whom you ask, the $300-billion-plus budget bill California lawmakers passed on Monday either was developed largely behind closed doors, ignores the state’s biggest problems and fails to provide urgent relief amid skyrocketing inflation — or offered ample opportunity for public input, makes historic investments in vital programs and ensures the neediest residents will receive financial help as quickly as possible.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first perspective was voiced by Republicans — who have virtually no say in California’s budget process — and the second by Democrats, who control a supermajority of seats in the state Legislature and don’t need GOP votes to pass a spending plan.
But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t seem too impressed with the budget, either — even though Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Democrat who leads the Senate budget committee, said it was 95% in alignment with the governor’s own blueprint.
Anthony York, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications, said in a statement: “Governor Newsom would like to see more immediate, direct relief to help millions more families with rising gas, groceries and rent prices. … The Governor remains opposed to massive ongoing spending” — an especially sharp dig at lawmakers — “and wants a budget that pays down more of the state’s long-term debts and puts more money into state reserves. The legislative proposal is also silent on the Governor’s plan to shore up our state’s energy supply to ensure we can continue to keep the lights on as California wrestles with more extreme heat and weather.”
But, as CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff notes, the Legislature’s proposal puts about $700 million more into reserves than Newsom’s own May budget plan.
The debate won’t end anytime soon, as the budget is far from final. The framework lawmakers approved Monday simply allows them to meet their Wednesday deadline for passing a spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — and thus avoid missing their paychecks.
They still have to negotiate key details with Newsom, such as how to spend a $21 billion climate package, Alexei reports. And they have to resolve key differences: Neither side has publicly budged an inch on competing proposals to send rebates to Californians struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.
As they reach compromises with Newsom, lawmakers will amend their spending plan by passing what are known as budget “trailer bills.” These measures are drafted behind closed doors and can include major policy changes with little to no relationship to the budget, as CalMatters columnist Dan Walters has written.
Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican and vice-chairperson of the Assembly Budget Committee, said Monday: “Let’s be honest — at best, this budget is incomplete. In the coming months we will have more budget bills, bills that will magically appear without transparency, without accountability, without public input. Transparency requires more public participation, more hearings and discussions.”
GOP state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Tehama: “These days … we do a lot of things with just the majority party dictating. That’s OK — but it’s really not. Because who is cut out of the budget? The same people who are cut out of our legislative process: the people of California. They have no idea what’s going on here.”
Democrats, however, pushed back on the notion that California’s budget process shuts out public participation.
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles said the budget subcommittee she leads held 13 well-attended public hearings: “We had hundreds and hundreds of Californians call in, come in person, and I want to thank every one of those Californians very, very much for the time that they took to participate and to give us the ideas that they have for the way that we should spend our money.”
Fong, the Bakersfield Republican, said on the Assembly floor: “These dollars, I’d like to remind all the members, are the hard-earned money of Californians. It is not Sacramento’s money.”
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