SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Gavin Newsom may call California a nation state, but he's hanging his hopes for avoiding drastic state budget cuts squarely on the federal government. The money may not come easily in a divided Congress, even with two Californians in the top roles in the U.S. House.
Outlining his budget proposal Thursday, Newsom laid out in stark terms the problems California faces as it reacts to falling revenues and increased spending from the coronavirus pandemic. Without an infusion of at least $14 billion from Congress, Newsom said the state would have to cut billions to public schools, hundreds of millions for preschool, child care and higher education programs and reduce health benefits for the poor, among other things. His budget is a draft, and he now enters negotiations with state lawmakers ahead of a June 30 deadline.
“The enormity of the task at hand cannot just be borne by a state,” he said. "The federal government has a moral and ethical and economic obligation to help support the states.”
Whether the federal government feels the same depends who you ask.
California has a powerful ally in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, whose bill for a $1 trillion infusion for local and state governments was up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled chamber Friday. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hails from Bakersfield and is the chamber's top Republican, called the package “a liberal wish list that will not become law.”
It proposes divvying up the money to state and local governments through formulas that consider a state's population, its share of coronavirus cases and its share of unemployed people. Each state would get a minimum amount.
In the Republican-dominated Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he doesn't want to bail out what he deems poorly run states.
Coronavirus has “blown a hole” through state budgets nationwide, said Jeff Chapman, director of state fiscal health at the Pew Charitable Trusts. He noted that California has built up its reserves in recent years, but even that is not enough to withstand the current economic pain. Failing to help the states could exacerbate the recession, something President Donald Trump doesn't want as he seeks re-election.