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California Governor To Announce Budget Expanding Benefits

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces his state spending plan on Friday, flush with a multi-billion surplus that state lawmakers expect he will use to give full health benefits to more low-income adults living in the country illegally.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Governor Gavin Newsome unveiled his new budget proposal today and two of the big ticket items would address homelessness and wildfires. The $222 billion budget will also expand health coverage to seniors living in the state illegally and move towards state manufacturer of prescription drugs. Newsome has the benefit this time of a projected budget surplus, which is on track to add about $7 billion to the state's resources. Joining me is reporter Merissa Legos with KQ, [inaudible], California politics and government desk. And Marissa, welcome to the program. Thanks for having me, Maureen. Now this budget showcases Newsome's focus on housing and homelessness. He's allocating 1.4 billion toward programs. How are those funds to be used? Yeah, I think that the main sort of thrust of this is that he feels like the state hasn't always done enough to get money quickly and directly into the hands of local governments and service providers who can actually make a difference on the ground.

Speaker 1: 00:59 And so we're talking about things about half that money or a little more than half, um, is essentially going to be, you know, aimed at actually getting, you know, to the, these local governments for things like emergency shelters. He also wants the state to open up, um, surplus lands and handout trailers that had already has on hand to help with those efforts. Um, and, and you know, there's a lot in here too around sort of connecting the idea between mental health and homelessness and the idea that if people are mentally or physically ill, they really can't get the help. And so he's kind of, I think changing the way in some ways that the state policy really imagines those connections as well. And another thing he wants to change is the number of firefighters in the state money for hundreds of new firefighters are included in the budget. What else is the governor proposing for wildfire and disaster relief?

Speaker 1: 01:53 Yeah. We're talking also about investments in new technology to help sort of track and monitor fires, um, home hardening money that could actually go directly, you know, to people who live in these wildfire prone areas and maybe need some financial assistance in making their homes more fire safe. Uh, vegetation management, which is never the sexiest thing to talk about, but as a super important. Um, and I think just generally, you know, this, there is a sense in this budget he talks in at one point about PG and E's bankruptcy and the fact that the state really needs to keep a close eye on utilities and what they're doing and, and continues to hold out the idea that if the state isn't happy with their, you know, reorganization plan when they exit bankruptcy later this year, that they would sort of reserve the right to come in and exercise more control over that privately on company.

Speaker 1: 02:40 One of the more controversial aspects of these proposals, these budget proposals is that Newsome is doubling down on his effort to extend health coverage to people living in this state illegally. How does this budget expand that? Yeah. So this would, we've seen in past years, sort of a a tick up, um, starting with up to 18 year olds, children who are undocumented now that goes up to age 26 that folks can qualify for medical if they're undocumented. Uh, the governor wants to expand that to low income adults over the age of 65. Um, he's putting it in about $80 million for this coming year, uh, to fund that. Um, and he really gave a full throated defense of that in his comments this morning, essentially saying, you know, some people don't think that there's a connection between healthcare and sort of larger societal healthiness. Um, and also that he thinks it saves money to do preventative care.

Speaker 1: 03:30 So I think you're right, it will be controversial outside of California, but I think within the state Capitol, we've seen lawmakers actually pushing him to do that. Staying on the subject of healthcare, the governor is really quite a unique proposal to reduce healthcare costs in California. He wants the state to have its own drug label. Can you tell us about that? Yeah, I mean, I think this is one of those areas where Newsome is trying to sort of throw a lot of things at the wall and see what sticks. I mean he's already talked about, um, going and doing more sort of direct negotiating with drug makers, um, in terms of the prices and sort of consolidating the power around the state to do that. Um, and you're right, he wants to work with existing generic drug manufacturers. So the state would essentially have its own label.

Speaker 1: 04:14 He thinks that the sort of buying power of California could really lower those prices for everyone. What other issues were highlighted in this budget? Yeah, you know, I thought, um, I was actually really interested that he really opened his now going on two hours of remarks. I'm really focusing on kids and education, which is something he came into office stressing. Um, and I think the wildfire crisis and obviously our homelessness crisis have really, you know, kind of overshadowed that, but he's talking about a wide range of programs. One, um, his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsome has helped craft, which is to expand by 40%. The state's nutritional program in schools, that's $70 million a year. Um, he's talking about more than a billion dollars to really focus on high poverty school districts, which we know tend to be where African American students are clustered and he wants to really go in and help support and train teachers, um, reform the special education system, um, and sort of create more broad plans for how to support kids who either have mental health problems or just in these low performing schools.

Speaker 1: 05:20 And finally, how does this year's budget compare with last year's budget, which was Newsome's first as governor of California? That's an interesting question. I think, I mean this is a 300 page budget. We're still kind of going through it. Um, I think broadly that even though he tried to really go, you know, to, to stress a lot of the sort of wide range of things, we are seeing a little bit more focus from his administration on these twin issues. You know, crises sees a homelessness, um, and climate change, which of course wildfires is part of. Um, and again, I think we are the, the complaint you heard in Sacramento, uh, the first year was that it wasn't always clear what the administration's priorities were. Lawmakers felt like there was sort of too much. Um, and I think that here we, we, we are seeing a little bit more focus.

Speaker 1: 06:06 Um, and also some, you know, I think it's still sort of the governor's very optimistic about California and its economy, but he continues to warn that that could contract and that, you know, we have to keep saving. Um, and so maybe not different from last year, but continuing on, um, putting more money in the rainy day fund, really trying to cap that out. Um, and paying down debt is something that we also heard them talk about. And I've been speaking with a reporter, Marissa Lagos' with KQ [inaudible], California politics and government desk. Marissa, thank you so much. My pleasure.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.