California Legislature Rightfully Criticizes Gov. Newsom for Government Overreach | Citizens Against Government Waste

California Legislature Rightfully Criticizes Gov. Newsom for Government Overreach

The WasteWatcher

As Governor Gavin Newsom continues to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to expand the use of his executive powers, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized him for the size and scope of his response.  They are particularly perturbed by what they view as his excessive use of emergency powers without receiving legislative approval, including issuing 32 executive orders since the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 death on March 4, 2020.  These executive orders have shut down businesses, instituted stay-at-home orders, changed elections to vote-by-mail, and authorized funding for the homeless.

In January, Gov. Newsom released his budget plan to spend $222.2 billion with a projected $5.6 billion surplus, but the state now has a $54.3 billion deficit.  To make up for the budget shortfall, Gov. Newsom has proposed cuts to education and health care programs, but the California Senate has rejected his proposal and is working on an alternative plan.  

The governor asked legislative budget leaders to approve a $2.9 billion contingency fund after lawmakers passed a similar measure for $1 billion in March.  However, the $2.9 billion was not adopted by the legislature, and nearly $805 million of the previously allocated $1 billion has been spent. Gov. Newsom still plans to spend another $1.8 billion out of the state’s general fund and is trying to control the expenditure of the $9.5 billion received from the federal government.  

In addition to the $9.5 billion in federal aid, California has also borrowed $348 million from federal agencies and expects to receive more than $186 billion from legislation enacted by Congress.  California will be receiving $1.5 billion from the Preparedness and Response Act, $13.6 billion from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), $134.8 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), and $36.3 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.

While some Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Gov. Newsom’s spending plans, others support asking Congress for more money, while at the same time working to increase spending and raise taxes.  To help offset the state’s $54.3 billion deficit, these legislators are seeking to defer $9 billion in payments to schools for at least a year and increase taxes on companies that manage the state’s Medicaid program. 

Despite those efforts, it is clear that there is bipartisan frustration with Governor Newsom’s abuse of power.  California lawmakers have examined the governor’s COVID-19 spending plans, which would increase the state’s costs by $5.7 billion to fight the virus.  However, lawmakers appear to be kept in the dark with how the funds would be used, and whether there would be stringent oversight of the governor’s proposal. 

General Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said that the governor does not have “complete authority” to do as he pleases to end COVID-19.  Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) stated that the poor communication from the governor “needs to stop if we are going to continue to have a relationship of trust.”  In an Assembly budget hearing, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) said that the legislature has been trying to engage with Governor Newsom after he failed to discuss the plan to spend funds for masks with the legislature.  Assemblyman Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield) said that Gov. Newsom’s past behavior will only predict his future behavior, and that the legislature is concerned about the past behavior. 

Even the Legislative Analyst’s Office is troubled about the governor’s spending plans and concerned that the role of the legislature could be sidelined in future decisions.

The Department of Finance has stated that the money would be used for testing, masks, and other protective equipment.  The funds would also be available in case a second wave of COVID-19 hits.  Unfortunately, most lawmakers heard about Gov. Newsom’s plan to spend $1.4 billion for millions of masks in an interview with Rachel Maddow rather than directly from the governor’s office.

It is no surprise that the legislature is questioning Gov. Newsom’s powers and communications during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There needs to be more accountability, transparency, and specifics about the governor’s authority during a pandemic and how he plans to utilize the state budget.  While the government should ensure health and safety for everyone, the legislature should hold the governor accountable and ensure that every penny is spent wisely.