Capitol Alert

‘No substitute for parents spending time with their children’: Newsom puts early focus on kids

On his last day before being sworn in as California governor, Gavin Newsom played up his focus on education and children’s issues at a kid-friendly inaugural event at the California State Railroad Museum.

The Sunday afternoon celebration attended by Newsom and his family drew hundreds of parents, children and a handful of lawmakers.

Parents raised phones above their heads to snap photos while children complained they couldn’t see over the swarm of cameramen and journalists surrounding the Democratic governor-elect. Newsom carried his 2-year-old son, Dutch, as he moved through the warm, crowded room, which smelled of the spaghetti and macaroni served to attendees. He set his son down next to one of the trains.

“This (event) was literally designed for Dutch,” he told reporters. “But he’s still looking for Thomas the train. If there’s one thing I can contribute to Sacramento, maybe it’s getting a Thomas train exhibit for 2-year-olds.”

The event underscored the incoming governor’s plans related to children and education.

Plans leaked in recent days show Newsom intends to propose nearly $2 billion in spending next year for early learning programs as part of his first budget proposal due this week. He wants $125 million to begin expanding preschool to all low-income four-year-olds over the next three years and $750 million to ensure full-day kindergarten is available in every school district. He will also ask for $500 million to expand state-subsidized child care programs, $247 million to provide more child care access for college students and $200 million to increase home visits and developmental screenings for infants.

Newsom will also back a second year of free community college for first-time students enrolled full-time, which would cost about $40 million next year.

Many of those proposals do not include ongoing funding, reflecting Newsom’s pledge on the campaign trail to follow in the more fiscally moderate footsteps of outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown.

“There will be a lot of one-time investments, so that we don’t put ourselves back in a position of structural deficits,” Newsom said Sunday. “We’ll make some down payments. You can’t do everything overnight.”

A leaked document reported by The New York Times on Sunday shows his administration wants to provide six months of paid leave for parents after the birth of a child. That would be the most expansive offering of any state in the country, but Newsom doesn’t yet have a plan to finance it.

California’s current system, with up to six weeks of partial pay, is funded by a payroll tax on employees, and raising that tax would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, always a heavy lift.

“It’s an audacious goal, because it’s a big cost,” Newsom said. But “there’s no substitute for parents spending time with their children.”

The event preceded a benefit concert at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, where Newsom announced the event raised $5 million for people affected by deadly California wildfires last year.

Newsom, who towered over most attendees at the Railroad Museum, shook hands with people as they congratulated him on his victory and paused to pose for photos. One man thanked him for his work on community colleges before snapping a selfie.

State Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, was among a handful of lawmakers who went to the event to greet Newsom.

“Welcome to Sacramento,” Pan told him.

Newsom, who has four children under the age of 10, emphasized his kids’ effect on the decisions he makes, including his family’s recent announcement that they will move to the historic governor’s mansion when he takes office.

“After doing five nights in a row of commutes, I came home on that third night, fourth night, and on that fifth night, I said, ‘No, we’ve got to move,’” he said.

Despite the setting, Newsom demurred about prospects for high-speed rail. He said he had a team that would be reassessing the progress and prospects of the troubled project in the coming months, though he added he was committed to “doing something.”

“My son seemed to like it a lot,” he said, referring to the bullet train exhibit. “That’s a good sign.”

Next to the table where children played with remote-controlled robots, he knelt to high-five a small boy clutching a blue balloon.

“My name’s Gavin,” he told the boy as he stood up. “I work for you.”

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