California is entering the next budget year with a record-smashing surplus of nearly $100 billion, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.
Newsom unveiled a revised budget plan of just over $300 billion for the next fiscal year, the highest in state history and fueled by surging tax revenues. The state has collected $55 billion more in taxes than officials expected in January, leaving it with an estimated $97.5 billion surplus.
California is home to about 39 million people and has an economy that’s larger than all but four nations. The surplus alone is much bigger than nearly every other state’s annual budget.
That extra money means Newsom, a Democrat, has tens of billions of dollars more to spend on new and existing initiatives as he seeks re-election in the fall. Newsom said one of his top priorities is providing Californians relief from spiraling inflation.
At a news conference to announce the new budget figures, he also touted California as a safe-haven for women seeking abortions. He wants to spend more money to help women in and out of the state get abortions amid uncertainty about the future of the Roe v Wade decision that legalized the procedure but could get overturned next month at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Newsom also proposed more spending on the drought and the state’s ongoing housing and homelessness crisis.
Most everything he talked about either was in the January budget plan or made public before Friday’s announcement. Newsom now must reach agreement with the Democratic-led Legislature. They have until the end of June to finalize the budget, which takes effect July 1.
California’s gas prices are among the highest in the nation, with the average price of a gallon now sitting at $5.87 cents in the state, according to AAA. The cost of food, cars and nearly every other consumer good has increased.
“People are feeling deep stress, deep anxiety,” Newsom said.
He’s proposed giving $400 checks to registered car owners in the state, with up to two checks per person. That would cost the state about $11.5 billion, he said. Though the money would only go to car owners, Newsom said it should be considered “inflation refund and relief.”
“For you, it could be a rebate to address the issue of groceries, it could be a rebate to address the other cost burdens that are placed on you,” he said.
Democratic leaders have a different idea on how to provide relief. They want to give $200 checks only to those below a certain income level.
Republicans, meanwhile, say rather than a check Newsom should suspend the state’s highest-in-the nation gas tax for one year. They’ve also asked him to increase a tax credit for renters and offer new tax credits to students.
“Senate Republicans believe there is a better way to invest in the state,” said Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of Yucaipa.
Newsom has made tackling California’s homelessness and housing crisis a top priority but both challenges continue unabated. That’s prompted Newsom to propose even more money to create more housing, including $500 million to turn shopping malls and office buildings into housing. A bill to do that died in the Legislature last year.
He’s also proposed building tiny homes as temporary shelter solutions for homeless people and expanding a pandemic-era program to house people in hotel and motel rooms.
The state’s schools will get $2.1 billion more to spend how they want, a proposal likely to be welcomed by districts still recovering from pandemic closures.
Newsom’s budget presentation comes as the state is in the throes of a deepening drought and as state energy officials warn of possible power shortages during the summer when air conditioning is at its peak.
The governor has called for people to cut their water use by 15%, but consumption went up dramatically in March. Newsom wants to spend more money to encourage conservation in cities and on farms, provide loans to struggling drinking water systems and boost water recycling. It includes $75 million for grants to farms and businesses hurt by the drought.
Meanwhile, he’s calling for $5 billion to create a 5,000-megawatt “strategic reserve” of energy to help the state avoid blackouts. One megawatt can power 750 to 1,000 homes. Newsom’s budget document included limited details on how that reserve would be built, but he has indicated he’s open to the possibility of keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility online past its planned closure in 2025 as well as some gas-fired power plants that are set to retire.
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