By Toni G. Atkins
Governor Gavin Newsom got off to an active start as he began his tenure as California’s 40th governor, proposing several ambitious policy changes and releasing a draft state budget in his first few days in office.
On day one, the governor announced new health care policy proposals, including making all residents up to age 26 eligible to obtain health insurance through the Medi-Cal program, helping middle-class Californians afford health insurance, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs through increased bulk purchasing power.
On day two, he announced proposals to strengthen California’s ability to prevent, fight and recover from devastating wildfires, including $305 million in additional funding to improve the health of our forests and enhance emergency response.
On day four, the governor released his proposed $209 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Drawing from a $21.4 billion surplus thanks to a strong economy, his budget keeps California on a positive path that balances the need for fiscal responsibility with our goal of strengthening programs that support our residents and provide opportunity.
Newsom’s budget recommendation adds another $1.8 billion to our rainy-day fund, bringing it to $15.3 billion, and increasing the safety net reserve that we created last year from $200 million to $900 million, which will protect vital services for vulnerable Californians and working families. Other prudent ideas include a one-time payment of $4.4 billion to eliminate past debts and one-time funds of $5.3 billion to pay down public employee retirement liabilities.
In addition to the health care and wildfire proposals, his budget increases grants to local governments to build affordable housing and creates new incentives to help meet local housing goals. It proposes yet another record investment in public schools and free tuition for the second year of community college, increases Cal Grants to make higher education accessible to more students, and adds funding for the UC and CSU systems.
Although our economy is strong and our budget is in the best shape in a generation, many individuals and families are still struggling. That’s why Newsom would like to double the impact of California’s earned income tax credit — it would be the program’s third expansion in three years. He also wants to increase CalWORKS grants to lift most children in the program out of deep poverty and send an additional $500 million to communities across the state to address homelessness.
I enjoy an excellent working relationship with Newsom and look forward to working with him on this year’s budget. His proposals will be vetted thoroughly in an extensive series of Senate and Assembly Budget Committee hearings this spring, and I am confident that, working together, we will craft a budget that once again will reflect California’s values and move California forward.
—Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.