Capitol Alert

Dog parks, playgrounds and a theater: California budget loaded with earmarks

Governor Gavin Newsom talks housing in his new budget plan

Governor Gavin Newsom releases his revised 2019-20 state budget proposal in a news conference at the State Capitol.
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Governor Gavin Newsom releases his revised 2019-20 state budget proposal in a news conference at the State Capitol.

California lawmakers are set to send a nearly $215 billion budget to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, and Republicans in the minority are criticizing hundreds of millions dollars in earmarks for community projects around the state that include dog parks and a sculpture garden.

More than $40 million will go to projects in Senate leader Toni Atkins’s hometown, San Diego. The city stands to gain a wide range of projects, including $21 million for a downtown railroad crossing, $8.7 million for unnamed projects in Balboa Park, $7.3 million to demolish a building at a state historic park, $5 million to prevent suicides along a local bridge and $500,000 for a dog park.

“Years of responsible budgeting, wise decisions by the voters, and a strong economy powered by our small businesses have allowed us not only to significantly increase our budget reserves and strengthen vital state programs, but also to invest directly in our communities,” Atkins said in a statement. “Local governments and organizations have created projects that improve the quality of life in our region and the Legislature and the governor are proud to be able to partner with them.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon will get $700,000 in the budget for the city of Lakewood to invest in “community facilities, park, or recreational facilities construction, acquisition, or improvements.”

Rendon’s spokesman, Kevin Liao, said the funding was necessary because “these are all needed projects and help local communities who are thus gaining benefits from the taxes they pay.”

Republicans consider spending for such local projects largely unnecessary, and refer to the projects as “pork.” They’re highlighting a range from worth about $150 million to $425 million, depending on which items from the budget are included.

“I see a lot of money going to all kinds of districts for pork,” said Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, whose own district will benefit from a $1 million grant approved for a city park. He said he didn’t ask for it.

Regardless of the amount, the state party is more concerned about the process through which these proposals were included in the final budget.

“There needs to be more transparency in the process,” said a statement from Matt Fleming, spokesman for the California GOP. “This is not how effective governments are run.”

California projects that it will accumulate a nearly $22 billion surplus over the next year, and it anticipates building up its reserves to about $20 billion.

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, mocked some of the earmarks in remarks on the Assembly floor, contending the money could be put to better uses.

“Maybe our homeless veterans can sleep in a sculpture garden, or a dog park,” she said.

Budgets have traditionally included plenty of money that Democrats and Republicans want to put back into their own districts for special projects. This year’s budget is no exception.

Lawmakers will vote to spend $3 milllon on a dog park in Rancho Cucamonga and $2.5 million on a new elevator at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The budget also gives $2 million to the Latino Theater Company, $1.1 million to San Francisco for construction on two LGBTQ spaces and $950,000 to a pair of senior centers.

Sacramento is also the beneficiary of several earmarks, including $1.5 million to study the scope of sex-trafficking in the city, $750,000 for Pannell Center Summer Nights and $354,000 for a parking structure on R Street.

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