Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom wants to spend 22 percent more on his staff than Jerry Brown did. Here’s what he’s adding

In his proposed $213 billion state spending plan, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend more on plenty of programs, from health care to early childhood education.

He also wants a big boost for his own office budget.

Newsom is planning to spend 22 percent more to staff the governor’s office than his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, creating new positions and revamping old jobs to bring in more senior advisers on such high priority policy areas as wildfires.

Other new and updated positions have gone to political allies, such as an agricultural liaison recommended by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a new job for failed Democratic congressional candidate Jessica Morse.

The increase, from $20 million to $24.5 million, will bring the governor’s office closer to a pre-recession size. In the last year of his term, Schwarzenegger had a nearly $22 million budget and 202 staff positions. By the end of his tenure, Brown had 108.

“We were finding savings everywhere we could,” said Dana Williamson, who served as one of Brown’s top aides. “We had, in modern times, a pretty small staff.”

If the Legislature approves, Newsom will bring the number of staff in his office to 132.

His office declined to provide a list of the additions, saying it is too difficult to compare the organizational structure with the previous administration.

Here’s what we know about what he’s changing:

More senior advisers

Newsom has appointed an array of senior advisers in specific areas, such as higher education and immigration, a change from Brown, whom Williamson said had a smaller number of senior advisers with broader portfolios.

Rhys Williams, who served as Newsom’s chief of staff when he was lieutenant governor, is now serving as his adviser on emergency preparedness and management. Williams helped craft Newsom’s March executive order to expedite 35 forest and brush-clearing operations in parts of the state susceptible to fires.

Newsom has three senior advisers for early childhood, implementation of early childhood development initiatives and cradle to career. They’ve helped Newsom craft the early childhood spending in his budget, such as its funding for home visits.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said an expanded cabinet staff will “make state government work better for the people it serves – from taking aggressive actions to combat the cost crisis families face to more quickly and effectively reacting in times of crisis and disaster.”

In January, Newsom’s office touted the appointment of pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris as the state’s first surgeon general. So far, she’s gone on a tour of the state to gather feedback on what policies would most help communities in California access health care. She’s also working with Newsom on his efforts to move the juvenile justice system from the corrections department to the Health and Human Services Agency to focus on rehabilitating incarcerated kids.

His administration plans to add at least two positions in Burke Harris’ office within the Health and Human Services Agency.

New field offices for constituent services

Click said the governor will create new field offices that will stretch from San Diego through the Central Valley and Northern California, representing both inland and coastal communities. Regional representatives will handle constituent affairs, he said, bringing the governor’s office “closer to the communities it serves.”

Office of the First Partner

Newsom wants to use $700,000 from his proposed budget for the new Office of the First Partner, his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s preferred title. Brown eliminated the corresponding Office of the First Lady during the recession.

Siebel Newsom’s office will have seven positions under Newsom’s proposed budget.

Jobs for political allies

Some new appointments have political implications.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, for example, asked Newsom in a January letter to appoint wealthy Modesto farmer Bill Lyons to lead the State Water Resources Control Board. Newsom instead created a job for Lyons in his cabinet – agriculture liaison. Unlike an appointment to the State Water Resources Control Board, the job doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

“Governor Newsom has been clear that rural communities and hard-working Californians in the agricultural industry will have a greater voice in his office than in past administrations,” Newsom spokesman Brian Ferguson said in an email. “Having a dedicated Agriculture Liaison allows our office to gain important insights from this community.”

Ferguson said Lyons’ role will “support the work already being done” by Newsom’s Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.

Water policy insiders and political scientists said Lyons’ appointment was a smart political move. Giving the new job to Lyons avoided slighting Feinstein — an important Democrat ally — while pleasing San Joaquin Valley farmers angry about the water board’s plan to cut their water supply.

Newsom also avoided tensions with environmentalist groups that would have urged lawmakers to oppose appointing Lyons to the water board.

“This is a savvy example of a governor splitting the difference between policy aims and political aims,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego.

In another example, Newsom appointed former congressional candidate Jessica Morse to a new position – Deputy Secretary of Forest Resources Management at the California Natural Resources Agency. She doesn’t have past forest management experience.

The position is a revamped version of the previous assistant secretary of forest resources management position, said Natural Resources Agency spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager.

Under Newsom, the position has a broader role in coordinating forest management across different agencies and outside organizations. One of Morse’s key responsibilities has been minimizing environmental damage from Newsom’s 35 expedited forest management projects, which are exempted from the California Environmental Quality Act, Lien-Mager said.

“This governor has put an emphasis on forest management and wildfire prevention,” Lien-Mager said. “We really wanted to make sure we were making every effort possible to protect the cultural and natural resources.”

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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