Lawmakers OK budget, despite ‘crappy’ parts

By Emily Hoeven, |

Rebates ranging from $200 to $1,050 are one step closer to landing in millions of Californians’ pockets after state lawmakers in marathon Wednesday night floor sessions passed a record-breaking $300 billion budget plan for the fiscal year beginning Friday.

Though heated and hours-long, the sessions were in many ways perfunctory: The supermajority-Democratic Legislature was all but guaranteed to sign off on the budget deal Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Speaker Anthony Rendon announced Sunday night.

  • Atkins: “In any year, this would be a great budget. In a world where we’re facing global inflation and ongoing pandemic issues, this budget is as remarkable as it is responsible.”

Republicans reprised complaints, voiced in hasty Monday hearings, about an opaque budget process and controversial policies buried within lengthy “trailer bills” drafted in private, but their remarks largely went unheeded: Democrats control enough seats in the Legislature to approve budgets without a single GOP vote.

  • State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Roseville Republican whose term ends this year: “I’m glad that this will be my last budget. … How did the budget come together? Behind closed doors. … I submit that that’s not a good process, mostly because it doesn’t include the citizens that we represent. … We’re letting them down when we don’t pay attention to them, and we largely don’t. We ignore them.”
  • Even some Democrats said the process has shortcomings: “72 hours is not a lot of time to read a piece of legislation, and sometimes when bills come this quickly we have to play catch-up,” said state Sen. Henry Stern, a Calabasas Democrat.

Just as unsurprisingly, Senate Democrats rejected for the umpteenth time a Republican proposal to amend the budget to suspend California’s gas excise tax, which is scheduled to increase Friday by nearly 3 cents per gallon.

Republicans are expected to introduce the same amendment today in the Assembly — and will likely get support from Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who said Wednesday “the budget simply should have suspended the gas tax.”

One of the most controversial measures approved Wednesday night was a sweeping energy trailer bill that — as part of a contingency plan to avoid power shortages and rolling blackouts as California transitions to clean energy — could give PG&E millions of dollars to extend the life of the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant while also significantly expanding the authority of the state Department of Water Resources and prolonging the use of gas-powered plants.

  • Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Torrance Democrat: “This is a crappy trailer bill that was dumped on us on late Sunday night and we have to vote on this three days later. This trailer is a rushed, unvetted and fossil-fuel-heavy response.” Nevertheless, Muratsuchi voted to support the bill.
  • State Sen. Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican: “Even the governor and the individuals voting on this bill to pass it know … if we don’t have these gas-powered power plants to fire up when we need them, you will not be able to flip the switch and get electricity. So I was actually excited … that a vote on this bill realizes that you need fossil fuels. You do. You need ’em! … But I am opposed to it because I think it completely usurps local authority.”
  • State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat: “There’s a lot of details here that have not been worked out. … But we have to be adults. We’re the adults in the room. If this is what we need to do to keep the energy sources and California’s lights on, then that’s what we need to do. Wish it would have been different, but those are the facts we’re faced with.”

For more on the contents of California’s massive budget, check out this comprehensive breakdown from the CalMatters team.

Amid the budget debate, lawmakers also sent a pile of gun control bills to Newsom’s desk, including one to ban the sale of firearms on state property, one to crack down on ghost guns, one to block companies from advertising certain firearms to minors, and another — inspired by Texas’ abortion ban — to give private Californians the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of certain illegal firearms and to collect at least $10,000 in civil damages per weapon.

In other Capitol updates: A number of high-profile bills failed to advance past key committees ahead of Friday’s deadline, rendering them dead for the year. They include:

  • A union-backed bill, fiercely opposed by the music industry, that would have limited the damages a recording company can recover from music artists if they walk away from their contracts after seven years. (Still alive is a related bill that would ban movie producers from preventing actors from working for multiple employers at the same time.)
  • A bill that would have created a new state agency to construct and manage social housing, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development defines as “the stock of residential rental accommodations provided at sub-market prices and allocated according to specific rules rather than according to market mechanisms.” Assemblymember Alex Lee, the San Jose Democrat who authored the bill, wrote on Twitter, “As we see recession on the horizon, private capital will slump, and home building and construction jobs will plummet. That’s why I remain committed to Social Housing — it is needed more than ever to fix our housing criss and provide strong middle-class jobs.”
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,378,193 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,516 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 77,484,870 vaccine doses, and 75.6% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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