On Tuesday, the Assembly held a rare ‘committee of the whole’ meeting over Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2020-2021 budget and questioned officials from the Governor’s office.
Newsom’s office grilled over proposed budget cuts
Both Republican and Democratic Assembly members, wearing masks and seated 6 feet away from each other, grilled Chief Budget Officer Keely Bosler over the Governor’s decisions and proposed cuts. Major grievances came from the subjects of public education, healthcare, the environment, and veterans services.
A “committee of the whole” hearing is usually reserved for a time of crisis. No such meeting had been called since 1995, when such a hearing was called over the Orange County bankruptcy. But with the state legislature being out of commission for nearly two months due to the coronavirus lockdown, a $54 billion budget hole forming because of the economic downturn, and a budget needing to be approved by both houses by June 15th, a ‘committee of the whole’ was deemed necessary to get the facts quickly and bring up budget cuts that lawmakers severely questioned.
“We must act in the face of limitations that surround us everywhere we look,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said in front of the masked Assembly members. “This kind of gives everybody an opportunity to get a bunch of information in the same room and also to kind of learn from one another,” he said. “If you’re asking a question and I’m hearing the answer, I learn from that.”
Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) heavily criticized a $100 million cut by Newsom over women’s healthcare services, as well as senior citizen and education cuts.
“The cuts to our seniors, our children and our women are devastating, explained Bauer-Kahan. “Is that who we are as a state?”
Assembly members of both parties continued to fire criticisms and vowed not to let some of the cuts happen. Democrats charged that the budget would lay off thousands more teachers, remove environmental cleanup funds, and could potentially be dangerous with proposed health care cuts.
Uncertainty over federal help and few ‘plan B’ options
Republicans lambasted plans over cutting Veteran Homes in the state and remained skeptical over state plans accepting federal money to make up the deficit.
CBO Bosler noted that Governor Newsom wanted the budget cuts to be filled by state government aid from the U.S. Congress, saying “Only the federal government has the capacity to really mitigate the most difficult reductions states and local governments are going to have to make to balance their budgets in the next several years.”
This led to the Republicans firing back that Congress may never send the needed money, so another plan is needed.
“We’re waiting on federal aid that may or may not come, and while we wait, foster youth, resource families, senior citizens, our health care providers are directly now bearing that burden,” explained Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno). “If this financial aid does not materialize, what is the plan B?”
Besides a legalized sports betting proposal from Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) that would only inject an estimated $2 billion into state coffers each year, no proposals were submitted for a ‘plan B’.
Legislators are now hurrying in what Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is calling a “speed dating approach to the budget process.”
“I’ve never seen things be fast-tracked so fast,” said “Dana,” who works in the State Capitol. “It’s all a giant rush to not only bring about bills, but to also set up this budget.
Not a lot of people agree with Newsom’s budget, so that’s only going to make things more hectic. Everyone is going to be fighting for their district and not so much for the state. That’s at least what I’ve been seeing.”
The legislature has until June 15th to approve a budget. If it’s not approved, the California Constitution requires them to give up their salaries for the year.
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