The dome of the California Capitol in Sacramento. Courtesy of the governor’s office
When Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed 2022-23 budget in January, he spent hours explaining its details to reporters and anyone else who wanted to watch his webcast.
Four months later, Newsom did it again when he proposed revisions to the budget.
And then the curtain fell.
The Legislature passed a placeholder budget bill to meet a June 15 constitutional deadline but everyone knew that it wasn’t the real budget, which was being negotiated behind closed doors. Everyone also knew that Newsom and legislative leaders disagreed on how a multi-billion-dollar package of rebates, tax breaks and other payments should be framed.
Finally, on Sunday night, they emerged with a deal on that and other budget issues that included two “budget bill juniors” to modify the placeholder version and more than two dozen “trailer bills” to implement the budget’s provisions but also containing an unknown number of policy decrees, some of which had little or nothing to do with the budget.
On Monday, just hours after the agreement was announced, legislative committees staged pro forma hearings on the budget deal — after giving the public, the media and affected interests almost no time to assess what was being proposed.
In stark contrast to Newsom’s lengthy dog-and-pony shows in January and May, there was no detailed presentation of the final budget’s provisions. There was just a joint statement from Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins congratulating themselves for doing a great job of spending about $300 billion.
“California’s budget addresses the state’s most pressing needs, and prioritizes getting dollars back into the pockets of millions of Californians who are grappling with global inflation and rising prices of everything from gas to groceries,” they said.
“The centerpiece of the agreement, a $17 billion inflation relief package, will offer tax refunds to millions of working Californians. Twenty-three million Californians will benefit from direct payments of up to $1,050. The package will also include a suspension of the state sales tax on diesel, and additional funds to help people pay their rent and utility bills.”
“In the face of growing economic uncertainty, this budget invests in California’s values while further filling the state’s budget reserves and building in triggers for future state spending to ensure budget stability for years to come,” Newsom, Rendon and Atkins concluded.
Newsom had proposed payments to motorists based on how many cars they owned — in theory to offset higher fuel prices — but legislative leaders wanted to concentrate relief on low- and moderate-income families. The final form of income-based payments indicates that Newsom backed down.
After leaving the bills in print for the minimum three days required by law — a law passed by voters over the opposition of Capitol politicians — the Legislature will pass and Newsom will sign the final budget just in time for the new fiscal year to begin on July 1.
Those with stakes in or curiosity about the new budget will then spend weeks trying to figure out just what it does beyond the splashy election year giveaways Newsom and legislative leaders are touting.
The secrecy and fast-track handling of the budget deal drew sharp criticism from Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Yuba City Republican who is also the vice-chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He complained that Republicans were given the budget package too late for complete analysis before the committee voted.
“Where is the information?” Nielsen asked during the committee’s brief hearing on Monday. “What are you afraid of?”
It’s a lousy way to spend the public’s money but it’s the way it is.
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