Bo Tefu | California Black Media

Aerial view of California State Capitol Building

The California legislature approved Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $267 billion state budget for fiscal year 2021-22. It is packed with support for programs and policy initiatives intended to drive California’s economy out of the downturn caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Cash that will be pumped into the general fund accounts for the major share of the budget, with a total of $96 billion directed to K-12 education and community colleges. That amount is based on minimum funding requirements set by Proposition 98, a ballot initiative that voters approved in 1998.

Although California lawmakers approved the budget in time for the state reopening, “And while we proudly embrace the California comeback, this last year reminds us that we need to plan for the unexpected,” said Gov. Newsom.

“We must maintain a strong fiscal foundation that does not overcommit the state to long-term spending it cannot afford, which could lead to future cuts,” he said.

Gov. Newsom first proposed the budget in January this year, and added some revisions in May, including funding to address issues affecting Black and Brown communities. Although lawmakers say they aim to prioritize long-term issues such as childcare and public health, Gov. Newsom says he wants to focus on reviving the job market by supporting the tourism industry and small businesses to amend California’s economic crisis.

Gov. Newsom announced the full reopening of the state on June 15 at Universal Studios Hollywood as nearly half of California’s population is fully vaccinated. The state also lifted COVID-19 restrictions, including

social distancing, mask requirements, and county tiers in most public settings statewide. The state continues to offer cash prizes to newly vaccinated residents as part of the its “Vax for the Win” incentive program which started in June this year.

The state’s fiscal year starts, “With the largest surplus in California history, we’re using this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an economic recovery that will leave nobody behind – with money going directly back to Californians, the nation’s largest small business relief programs, and unprecedented investments to address California’s most persistent challenges such as homelessness, climate change and equity in our education system,” said Gov. Newsom.

Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, shared the governor’s optimism about the newly approved budget. He highlighted the economic inequality accelerated by COVID-19 and its impact on low-income families in California. Holden expressed confidence that the budget makes investments in priorities that will address the state’s most important issues.

“This time last year, we feared the pandemic would destroy our economy and leave the state in a deep hole,” said Holden referring to the legislature’s decision.

“Even though the outlook for beating the virus is in sight, we know families continue to struggle in this pandemic,” he said.

However, since the legislature approved the budget, “we are in a much better position than we ever thought given the circumstances. We are making robust investments for priority issues including our economic recovery, education, and homelessness while contributing at a record level to our reserves,” said Holden.

Most Democratic lawmakers gave the budget a thumbs up, but some Republicans remained hesitant about the certainty of California’s economic recovery based on the newly approved budget.

Republican lawmakers claim that the state’s budget is a “placeholder budget” used by legislators to take advantage of loopholes in California’s constitution.

California’s constitution mandates that the legislature pass the budget by midnight each year on June 15 — or lawmakers forfeit their salaries.

The day before the state’s reopening, Republican Sen. James Nielsen was vocal about his opposition to the newly approved budget in a Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee meeting.

“This is a fake budget. It’s a feel-good budget. It’s a ‘let us get paid’ budget. But, what we’re voting on is not going to be the [real] budget,” said Nielsen.

“We already know what they’re voting on today, it’s kind of a fraud on the people to make them think, ‘Oh, look at all these wonderful things we’re getting,’” said Nielsen.

The pushback from Republican lawmakers raised questions about the state’s final budget as Gov. Newsom and California legislators negotiate and modify how funds will be allocated. This process has to be completed by July 1, when the budget goes into effect.

Last week, Gov. Newsom also eliminated executive orders he implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. New executive orders he signed lifted the stay-at-home order and the county tier system following the approval of the budget and the reopening of the state.

The California Department of Public Health also released a new order that removed restrictions in public spaces, including at schools and during major events.

As of June 15, people in California are no longer required to wears masks or social distance. But state officials recommend that non-vaccinated people still protect themselves in public places to prevent infection.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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