When it comes to budgets, Gov. Gavin Newsom certainly seems to know what he’s talking about. He didn’t dodge the details while holding forth for nearly two hours Thursday on his $209 billion proposal. Rarely did he glance at the notes on his podium.
Even Gov. Jerry Brown, a noted fiscal wizard, usually kept a few staffers nearby to help with the details. Not Newsom, who joked about bringing his finance director on stage for a question but then plowed right through on his own.
He was clear and confident. He was prudent and bold. Gone was the gloom-and-doom framing of the Brown era. In its place, Newsom exuded a steady optimism — rooted, of course, in Brown’s multibillion-dollar surplus.
“The message we are advancing here is discipline, building a strong foundation,” said Newsom, echoing his predecessor.
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Brown’s fiscal responsibility was especially resonant in a few of Newsom’s key proposals:
▪ $4 billion to pay off outstanding budgetary debt
▪ $4.8 billion more for the state’s “rainy day fund”
▪ $4.8 billion to pay down unfunded retirement liabilities
Newsom front-loaded the fiscal responsibility while showcasing differences with his predecessor that reflect new values.
Newsom’s first budget had $8 billion more in spending than Brown’s final one, and the document made clear Newsom’s values center around the health and wellbeing of California’s families.
He made good on his campaign promises to increase funding for children, education, health and programs to help struggling families escape poverty. The new spending – some of it coming from an expected $21 billion surplus Newsom projects for the coming year – includes:
▪ $80.7 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges, an all-time high that includes $1.7 billion for early childhood education initiatives like universal pre-school and all-day kindergarten.
▪ An 8 percent increase for the California State University system and a 6.9 percent increase for the University of California, including support for on-campus childcare facilities, initiatives to fight student hunger and funding for mental health services.
▪ $1 billion for the “Working Families Tax Credit,” formerly known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits lower-income families.
The budget tackles homelessness, improves prison inmate literacy and extends paid parental leave. It delivers on campaign promises while providing a glimpse of Newsom’s vision for a better world with deeper investments in programs that help struggling families.
“What’s been missing in the past – humbly – is a vision and a commitment,” he said, one of several digs at Brown.
These may be audacious words from a guy who inherited a massive surplus and has only three days on the job. But Newsom is a man with “big hairy audacious goals.” He seems to be saying that stability and surplus are not enough; that California must strive for more and better for its people.
Newsom has a point. What does it profit a state to stockpile historic surpluses while leading the nation in child poverty rates? And Newsom’s not just talking – he’s also putting some skin in the game.
He doubled down on his declaration that homelessness is too important an issue to be left to cities alone. He views it as a state issue, and he’s putting himself on the hook for results. Most politicians – Brown included – think it wiser to evade responsibility for seemingly intractable social issues like homelessness. See: “doctrine of subsidiarity,” a philosophy that problems should be solved at the most local level possible.
Newsom’s first budget is both an embrace and a rebuke of Brown’s philosophy. Fair enough. History may judge him to be more courageous than Brown. Time will tell if he is also wiser.