California Assembly slams Newsom's proposed budget cuts

The California Assembly slammed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal on Tuesday, criticizing his proposed cuts to public education, health care and environmental protections during a rare meeting that allowed them to question the administration directly.

Few state lawmakers used their platform to offer an alternative plan, as the administration faces the challenge of cutting a staggering $54.3 billion from the state budget that pays for services for nearly 40 million people.

RELATED: Facing $54B shortfall, Gov. Newsom proposes using reserves, making cuts to balance budget

California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature is hurrying to approve a spending plan by June 15 because, if they don’t, the state Constitution requires them to give up their salaries.

Lawmakers normally have months to examine the governor’s proposal while carefully crafting their own. But this year, the Legislature has about a month to act after the coronavirus devastated the state’s economy and tanked its tax collections.

The Assembly met Tuesday as a committee of the whole — a rarely used procedure that lets all lawmakers meet at the same time and hear testimony from people not elected to the Legislature. It’s the first time the state Assembly has met this way since a 1995 hearing to discuss the Orange County bankruptcy.

Most of the lawmakers didn’t use their limited time Tuesday to ask questions and instead told Keely Bosler — Newsom’s chief budget officer — what the administration got wrong.

Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty said Newsom’s proposed cuts to public education were “unacceptable” and would put thousands of teachers out of work.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, said the plan “is a defunding of environmental protections” by raiding funds set aside to clean up air pollution. Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from Orinda, bemoaned the governor for shifting $100 million away from sexual and reproductive health care services to help balance the budget.

“The cuts to our seniors, our children and our women are devastating,” she said. “Is that who we are as a state?”

And Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Democrat from Merced, said it was wrong for Newsom to slash health care spending during a pandemic, saying he considers Newsom’s proposal to be a “worst-case scenario.”

“It makes cuts that are perhaps more painful than necessary while offering little in the way of creative revenue generation, conservation or reform,” he said.

Gray was one of the few lawmakers to offer an alternative plan, proposing the Legislature legalize sports betting as a way to generate an extra $2 billion to help eliminate some of the proposed $14 billion in cuts.

Newsom has said he prefers to let the federal government cover California’s shortfall. His budget includes language that would automatically cancel most of his cuts if Congress approves another round of aid for state and local governments.

“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,” Bosler said.

Gabriel Petek, the nonpartisan legislative analyst, noted that any new money from the federal government would likely run out after one or two years. Petek’s office says the state is facing budget deficits through at least 2024.

“In that case, the Legislature will once again be faced with a structural issue when that funding begins to phase out,” Petek said.

Republicans were skeptical that Congress would send California more money, saying the state must have a different plan rather than imposing draconian cuts.

“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,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno. “If this financial aid does not materialize, what is the plan B?”

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