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California budget confronts climate change, homeless, crime

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday proposed a $286.4 billion budget that sets off months of budget talks with his fellow Democrats, who control the state Legislature, before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Newsom focused much of his budget proposal on some of the state's biggest issues — climate change, homelessness, education, abortion, high-speed rail, the pandemic, crime.

Climate change

Newsom wants to spend $22.5 billion over the next five years to fight climate change and protect communities most at risk from changing weather patterns.

About $15 billion would go to climate-related transportation projects such as helping low-income people purchase electric cars; expanding charging infrastructure in disadvantaged neighborhoods and helping schools buy electric buses.

Newsom also proposes to release $4.2 billion in bond money for the controversial high-speed rail project that advocates say will eventually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Assembly Democrats stalled the funding last year.

Another $2 billion would boost clean energy development and storage, along with another $465 million over three years to create new jobs and training centers for displaced oil industry workers.

Newsom wants to spend $750 million to improve water efficiency, limit damage to fish and wildlife, and conserve water. He’d also spend $175 million on projects designed to lessen the effects of extreme heat.

Wildfires

After consecutive record-setting wildfire seasons the past two years, the governor proposed a nearly 20% increase in the budget for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Spending would increase from $3.1 billion approved last year to $3.7 billion and add more than 1,200 new CalFire positions. It would also include $400 million to be spent to improve the health of firefighters who have been on the front lines during the lengthy seasons.

About $150 million would be spent to buy 14 new water-dropping helicopters and $35 million to buy new fire engines and bulldozers. Another $175 million would be spent toward replacing or improving aging fire stations and air bases, part of a 5-year plan.

CalFire's budget would fund about a third of the proposed $1.2 billion to be spent over two years on efforts to manage forests to decrease fire risk.

Homelessness

Newsom proposed spending another $2 billion on homelessness on top of the $12 billion in last year's budget.

This time he's focusing on people struggling with mental health illnesses or drug and alcohol addiction. A quarter of an estimated 161,000 homeless in California have a severe mental illness.

The proposed budget includes $1.5 billion for housing to get people off the streets and into treatment, such as tiny homes or other transitional shelters.

Newsom also wants $500 million for cities and counties to find housing for people now living alongside highways and medians. Advocates for the homeless say dismantling such encampments without providing actual housing for people is just harassment.

Public health

California taxpayers already pay for the health care of low-income young adults and people 50 and over who are living in the country illegally. Now, Newsom wants the state to pay the health care expenses for every low-income adult in the state regardless of their immigration status. The plan would cost about $2.2 billion per year and would begin in January 2024.

With the U.S. Supreme Court weighing whether to let states outlaw or severely restrict access to abortion, Newsom proposed spending $20 million to provide scholarships and loan repayments for people studying to become doctors who commit to providing abortion services.

Newsom also wants to create an Office of Health Care Affordability to regulate how much it costs to get health care in California. The office would set “cost targets” for the health care industry and could fine providers who exceed those targets.

His budget includes $1.2 billion related to the coronavirus, including testing, laboratory costs, vaccinations, contact tracing and medical surge staffing. He also asked lawmakers to approve another $1.4 billion immediately instead of waiting for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

The governor also proposes spending $100 million a year to strengthen the state’s public health infrastructure and complement local funding. That includes enhancing public education to combat coronavirus disinformation.

Another $200 million a year would go to local health jurisdictions to boost their public health infrastructure.

Education

California’s K-12 public schools and community colleges would see $102 billion to help schools deal with the ongoing pandemic and expand early childhood education and childcare programs.

School funding would increase by $8.2 billion based on minimum funding guarantees under state law, with another $7.9 billion in one-time funds for facilities, transportation and other programs.

The proposal includes $1 billion to begin phasing in universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds by 2025 and an additional $3.4 billion for expanded learning opportunities, including before- and after-school programs for low-income elementary school students.

Schools would get $937 million for arts and music programs — the biggest appropriation in years.

Newsom seeks $1.2 billion to help school districts that otherwise face funding cuts due to declining enrollment during the pandemic.

The proposal also includes a 5.33% cost-of-living increase for education — the largest since 2008.

Law enforcement

About 100 of California's nearly 700 condemned inmates have transferred to other prisons since March 2020 under a previously announced program. As more leave San Quentin State Prison's death row, Newsom's budget includes $1.5 million to find new uses for vacant condemned housing areas. Newsom has a moratorium on executions so long as he is governor.

His budget seeks $13.7 million, with another $3 million ongoing, to create an experimental Norway-style rehabilitative environment within Valley State Prison in Chowchilla.

Nearly $53 million over several years would go to update technology intended to block contraband cell phone usage in prisons. More than $100 million would go toward more fixed and body-worn cameras in prisons.

Newsom's budget follows through on his promise last month to seek $356 million over three years to combat a recent flurry of organized retail thefts and smash-and-grab robberies.

Some critics have increasingly pinned blame on Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that reduced some property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Newsom's budget says that initiative last year saved $147.3 million from reduced incarceration, money that will go toward community programs including drug treatment, mental health services, housing and job training.