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Gavin Newsom’s first budget: Down payments made, but supporters still want more

Hear governor Gavin Newsom’s 2019 state budget proposal

Gavin Newsom revealed his $209 billion California state budget proposal on Jan. 10, 2019.
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Gavin Newsom revealed his $209 billion California state budget proposal on Jan. 10, 2019.

More state-funded health care for undocumented immigrants. Nearly $2 billion for early childhood programs. Millions of dollars to spur housing construction.

In his first week as California governor, Gavin Newsom promised something for nearly every key interest group that backed his campaign. He outlined new spending and policies on a wide array of issues in his first week, from additional funding for emergency response to expanded tax breaks for low-income families.

Many of his supporters have cheered his proposals. But some say he still needs to do more to deliver on his promises now that he’s in office.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said it was not surprising that Newsom’s first budget proposal touched on so many different topics.

“It’s always challenging when you have two-year campaign,” the Assembly Budget Committee chair said. “You obviously need to be talking about a lot of different things and talk to a lot of constituency groups.”

However, Ting added, it remains to be seen how much Newsom and his team are “really willing to push” on any particular item that could be a heavier lift with the Legislature.

The budget blitz reflects Newsom’s effort to build relationships early in his administration with those who can help him achieve his policy goals.

He peppered his two-hour budget announcement with shout-outs to politicians in the room to show he’s listening to them, said Daniel Zingale, who runs Newsom’s communications team.

But the governor’s first goal in drafting the budget was paying debts, adding to the state’s reserves and reducing the state’s unfunded retirement liabilities, Zingale said.

“All of the ambitious, bold, groundbreaking elements of that budget have to be built on a rock-solid foundation of fiscal responsibility,” he said.

Where Newsom’s first budget proposal takes more modest steps toward fulfilling his lofty campaign promises, there could be intense lobbying efforts in the months ahead.

The California Nurses Association backed Newsom’s campaign because he supported a government-funded health care system for all Californians. Stephanie Roberson, who lobbies for the union, praised Newsom’s plans to extend state health insurance to more undocumented immigrants and to lower drug prices, but said the union doesn’t plan to stop pushing for a “single payer” system.

“We applaud the governor taking steps to rein in the rate of uninsured and under-insured,” she said. “But we need a comprehensive solution to the rising costs of health care and the only way to achieve that is through a true Medicare for all system.”

He’s also facing pressure to spend even more on education. The nearly $2 billion he’s proposed for early childhood initiatives falls short of his promise on the campaign trail for universal preschool. And despite more than a billion dollars in new higher education funding to increase enrollment, freeze tuition and improve graduation rates, student groups from the state’s public colleges and universities jointly responded that Newsom’s budget proposal did “not go nearly far enough” to help low-income students.

Caroline Siegel Singh, president of the University of California Student Association, said Newsom’s attention to college affordability was a “really good place to start.” But she added that his plan was missing student voices.

Housing, transportation and food costs are often a greater burden for students than tuition, Siegel Singh said, while summer classes, which many take to graduate faster, are “ungodly expensive.” She said student groups would lobby in the months ahead to secure more financial aid.

Newsom’s housing plans drew praise from some groups involved in the issue, including Housing California, which advocates for affordable housing. Newsom’s budget proposal included hundreds of millions of dollars to spur construction, as well as more money to help homeless people.

Tyrone Buckley, Housing California’s policy director, cheered the long list of housing proposals in Newsom’s budget, although he said it’s an area that always needs more funding. As negotiations move forward, he said the group will likely push for more subsidized, long-term housing for vulnerable people.

“You’ll rarely hear folks in the affordable housing community say a budget is enough,” Buckley said. “We can always use more investment… I would just say that we go into this very hopefully.”

Newsom called for patience during his budget news conference, noting that he was still just days into his administration.

Some of the plans he’s already announced, meanwhile, will face opposition.

Some cities and counties are likely to push back on his threat to withhold transportation funding from communities that don’t meet housing construction goals.

Zingale said he expects Newsom’s efforts to drive down prescription drug prices will face opposition from pharmaceutical companies, which have a formidable lobbying presence at the Capitol.

On immigration, Newsom announced plans just hours after being sworn into office to let young adult immigrants without legal status enroll in state health insurance. He also proposed more funding for legal and humanitarian aid at the border, drawing praise from immigrant advocates.

“Newsom’s proposed new state investments offer a ray of hope and an important recognition of our values of compassion and common humanity,” Cynthia Buiza, director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said in a statement. “We are heartened to see this new administration take a proactive, humane and welcoming approach.”

Yet Newsom will face pressure to expand his health care proposal for undocumented immigrants. Lawmakers have already introduced bills that would expand state health care eligibility to all adults regardless of immigration status. Newsom’s proposal applies only to those without legal status under age 26.

Ending child poverty is another effort Newsom promised to tackle.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said she breathed a sigh of relief when the governor proposed more money for poor families through the state’s CalWorks program, a top priority for her. The governor’s message of destigmatizing the public assistance program is a step in the right direction, she said.

“I think we’re turning the corner,” Mitchell said. Still, she noted the increase still isn’t enough to lift children out of deep poverty.

“We have a long way to go,” she said.

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