Assembly’s Festivus-Style ‘Airing of Grievances’ Does Not Disappoint

In my last blog post, I previewed the Assembly’s unusual “Committee of the Whole” hearing on the state budget, comparing it to Seinfeld’s Festivus “Airing of Grievances.”

Little did I know how clairvoyant I really was.

Last Tuesday’s five hour session could charitably be called a “gripe fest” as lawmakers took to their soapboxes to air their criticisms of Newsom’s plan.

Anyone who watched the proceedings at home could not help but think how divorced from reality many lawmakers are with the economic struggles of hard-working Californians today.  (If you missed it, you can watch the proceedings here.)

Instead, lawmakers rose one-by-one to decry how their pet causes were being mistreated in the May Revise.

Criticizing what he characterized as Newsom’s defunding of the environment, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica called the COVID-19 pandemic a “health, economic, social justice, and environmental crisis.” He said that the coronavirus “has its roots in the environment, where warming climates, constraints on habitats and biodiversity, legal and illegal trade in wild animals have all played a role.”

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, made the pitch for legalizing online wagering in California, which he says would generate up to $2 billion in new revenue for the state.

Assemblywoman Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, called on lawmakers to adopt a “feminist budget that includes access to childcare, paid family leave, support for Planned Parenthood and economic security for women.”

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego said she “would be remiss (not) to point that there is nothing in this budget for our undocumented residents” and called it “an injustice” that the undocumented are not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Taking the cake was Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, who spoke of “shared prosperity” and offered a socialist policy wish list including a “temporary partial income replacement program” for undocumented workers, expanded welfare programs, and government-run health care.

“We need to have a real debate on single-payer and Medicare for All,” he declared.  California couldn’t afford single-payer in good economic times – it is forecast to cost nearly double the state General Fund annually – and we certainly can’t afford it during a harsh recession.

At a time when we’re looking to jumpstart the economy, Kalra proposes to throw cold water on entrepreneurs with his call for “more revenue, particularly from those who have profited greatly during this pandemic.”  Not sure that anyone has really benefitted financially from the COVID-19-fueled economic downturn.

“We must begin to rebalance the economy through a combination of new corporate windfall and, yes, wealth taxes with stepped up contributions from those who have benefitted the most from California’s economy,” he argued.

So, why Speaker Rendon led the Assembly through this exercise?  One school of thought is that lawmakers have grown increasingly wary of the Governor’s use of his executive powers during the COVID-19 crisis, as evidenced by the legislative criticism of his controversial mask contract.  Allowing lawmakers to let off some steam could have been Rendon’s way of reasserting the Legislature’s status as a co-equal branch of government.

It could have also been exercise by Rendon of “member maintenance.”  The hearing let lawmakers vent their frustration with what they didn’t like in Newsom’s May Revise now to “get it out of their system,” with the hope that they’ll ultimately be ready to vote for the final budget plan by June 15.

The Legislature is clearly not shying away from pushing back on Newsom and the Assembly’s “airing of grievances” was just the first shot.

The Senate went a step further than the Assembly on Thursday night in approving its own budget that rejects many of Newsom’s most controversial proposals in the May Revise.  Under the banner “be responsible,” the Senate Budget Committee document proclaims the red carpet budget approach “avoids balancing the budget with solutions that may not happen” and proposes to “(make) use of the historic reserves – rather than draconian cuts – in the event federal funds do not materialize.”

Among the changes in its plan are increasing the use of the same types of budget gimmicks – fund shifts, deferrals, and internal borrowing – that caused a lot of the budget problems in the 2000s that took nearly a decade for the state to dig out from under.  It also proposes to restore the expansion of Medi-Cal to illegal immigrants over the age of 65 living in California but would delay the start date to 2022.

Newsom is clearly going to have to bend some in the direction of the Legislature’s liberal majority if he expects to win approval of the state budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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