State Sen. Toni Atkins speaks at a 2-1-1 San Diego press conference alongside Gov. Gavin Newsom. / Photo by Megan Wood

California has always given me, a nerdy political journalist, an appropriate birthday gift: the state budget deadline.

On Monday, it’s likely to be one of the wildest ones ever thanks to the sudden economic catastrophe the coronavirus thrust into politicians’ laps.

Legislators must pass a budget by the June 15 deadline. But because they don’t appear to have reached a deal with Gov. Gavin Newsom yet, there’s a chance the process could keep going after June 15 in the form of amendments to the budget passed later.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said in a statement to VOSD that the Legislature’s version of the budget is “faithful to the pragmatic fiscal structure put forth by Governor Newsom in his May revision” – yet there are still some big details left to hammer out.

Atkins said the Legislature’s version “not only closes the $54 billion budget gap, but avoids draconian cuts and provides strong footing as California enters challenging economic times. This plan will protect K-12 and higher education, avert health care cost increases for seniors and cuts to affordable housing programs.”

Here are some things to keep an eye on as negotiations reach the final stretch.

Schools, Schools and Also Schools

A group of six of the state’s largest school districts, including San Diego Unified, told lawmakers in May that it wouldn’t be possible for them to reopen in the fall if the governor’s planned budget – which includes a 10 percent funding cut to schools – goes through.

The Legislature’s version of the budget, though, gave schools more hope. They want to walk back that cut and even add a 2 percent cost-of-living increase.

Both the governor and the Legislature are hoping that the federal government comes through with billions that can be sent to schools, but if that doesn’t happen, the Legislature’s budget counts on states reserves and deferred payments to make things work.

Whether schools reopen could be the linchpin for the entire economy. How lawmakers and the governor bridge the gap between their two budgets will be by far the most fascinating piece of the discussion.

“I’m most concerned that we guard against cuts to education and continue to look out for the most vulnerable among us,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath similarly said ensuring kids can go back to school is crucial to keep in mind for budget discussions.

“Parents, especially moms, cannot fully go back to work when our kids are not in school five days a week. My office has been working closely with the state, county, local superintendents, trustees, and teachers to find a way for this to happen.  It doesn’t happen with 10 percent cuts to education though – you can’t do more with less,” she wrote in an email.

Cuts to Other State Workers

Newsom’s budget envisions a 10 percent pay cut for all state workers.

Lawmakers’ version doesn’t mandate cuts (are you sensing a theme here?) but they are counting on savings to come out of collective bargaining agreements with the unions representing state workers, the Sacramento Bee noted.

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU 1000, told KCRA in Sacramento that negotiations are still playing out.

“Everybody should give something. But nobody should give all. And I think if we take that approach all over, I think that works,” she said.

Health Care

Another lifetime ago – in January – Newsom envisioned expanding health care access, including by offering Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented residents. His revised budget cancels that planned expansion, among other hits to health care like cuts in Medi-Cal services and provider rates.

The Legislature’s version simply delays the expansion until 2022.

Sen. Ben Hueso said protecting vulnerable populations as well as frontline workers, are at the top of the list” when it comes to his budget priorities. “This year’s budget negotiations are obviously much more cumbersome and some very difficult decisions have to be made, but we cannot allow our communities’ most vulnerable or at risk bear the weight of the state’s COVID-19-induced deficit,” he wrote in an email.

Assemblyman Brian Maienschein told VOSD that funding for mental health services are top of mind for him in terms of the budget.

“Families are struggling with the many impacts COVID-19 has had on every aspect of their lives. As a longtime advocate for mental health I want to ensure that the budget puts the health and safety of Californians first and doesn’t cause us to undo the progress we’ve made. Cuts to education or programs that support our most vulnerable could have devastating effects on the hard-working families who are trying to navigate life through a pandemic,” he wrote in a statement.

Boerner Horvath wrote that cuts to Medi-Cal, clinics, hospitals and in-home care workers “should be off the table.”

“We are in the middle of a pandemic and it is our job to protect our most vulnerable, including our seniors,” she wrote.

Businesses and the Economy

Coronavirus closures have devastated businesses across the state, which is why the state’s Department of Business, Consumer Services and Housing actually gets a budget increase in Newsom’s latest version of the budget.

That doesn’t mean lawmakers and others are satisfied with every piece of how the budget handles businesses.

AB 5, the controversial law written by Gonzalez that limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors, has loomed large in discussions about new legislation this year – and it’s a point of contention in the budget, too. Newsom’s budget retains $20 million for enforcement efforts for AB 5, which has enraged Republicans.

“Sen. Bates is continuing to advocate for a budget that protects public health, safety, education, and supports our economy,” Bates’ spokesman, Ronald Ongtoaboc, wrote in an email.However she is concerned that the most recent proposal raises taxes on businesses who are already struggling to survive. She also doesn’t support spending money to enforce AB 5, which she views as deeply flawed and will further hurt workers who wish to remain independent. She wants a budget that encourages an economic recovery, not one that undermines it.”

Boerner Horvath, meanwhile, expressed concern about cuts to business research and development efforts.

“Our ability to come out of this pandemic will be on the backs of our innovative biotech industry, which is working collaboratively to come up with therapeutics. At a time when we need them most, cutting research and development in this sector is not the right approach,” she wrote. “What keeps me up at night though, is how we make our economy more resilient to future potential surges. We need to build capacity to rapidly retrain our workforce and come up with more innovative programs like work-share programs to weather any future surges for a more robust economy and get people back to work more quickly.”

Carotid Restraint Ban Could Go Statewide

Assemblyman Todd Gloria has signed on to co-author a bill that would ban the carotid restraint across California.

“The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis demands that we review and revisit how police officers operate and the way they interact with the public,” Gloria said in a statement. “Ending the use of the carotid restraint is in the best interest of public safety and public trust.

Until recently, local cops were still using the neck hold. But as Black Lives Matter protests began picking up, police agencies throughout the county quickly dropped the carotid restraint from their list of acceptable uses of force.

It happened slowly, then all at once — as though no local agency wanted to be the last one standing. Sheriff Bill Gore defended the method about 24 hours before agreeing to ban it. Hours before Escondido banned the restraint, Police Chief Ed Varso was still on the fence about it.

He told Kayla Jimenez last week that he worried taking the carotid restraint away would lead to even more violent interactions with the public. He asked rhetorically: “Do I put my officers down in a position where they’re more likely to have to use lethal force?”

On Twitter, Assemblywoman Marie Waldron also offered stats showing that if California were a nation, it would have the second highest prison population. The first is the United States as a whole. Black and Latino people make up a disproportionate percent of that population.

“What plan do we have for rehabilitation, mental health/SUD treatment, reducing prison population?” she said.

Affirmative Action Measure, AB 5 Changes Pass Assembly Floor

The state Assembly moved some of its most high-profile bills off the floor this week and over to the Senate.

That includes ACA 5, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to overturn the state’s ban on affirmative action.

Weber had a characteristically entertaining response when a Los Angeles Times columnist asked her before the vote whether ACA 5 and a separate bill to study the possibility of reparations were symbolic efforts: “No, hell no! … I am beyond consciousness-raising. … I don’t do things for people to think about.”

Last month, Weber praised Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel, who represents Santee, for voting for the bill when it came before an Assembly committee. But in Wednesday’s Assembly floor vote, Voepel voted against the measure, as did Republican Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, who represents Escondido.

AB 1850, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s measure to change and update AB 5, also passed the Assembly. AB 1850 would further exempt musicians, journalists, photographers and several other types of workers from the provisions of AB 5, so long as they meet certain requirements.

  • AB 2152 by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, which bans the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in California, also passed the Assembly.
  • AB 1927 by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, which would protect witnesses and crime victims from being prosecuted for certain offenses that are revealed through their testimony, also passed the Assembly. The bill is sponsored by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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