Lawmakers Pass a Budget Bill, But No Deal Yet on Gas Price Relief

Lawmakers Pass a Budget Bill, But No Deal Yet on Gas Price Relief

On Monday, Senate and Assembly Democrats passed their version of the 2022-23 state budget.

While patting themselves on the back for adopting “a budget that puts California’s wealth to work for individuals, families, and businesses throughout our state,” there was one thing missing from their announcement – the support of Gov. Newsom.

Newsom and legislative Democrats are still at odds over how to give Californians some relief in the state budget from record-high gas prices and inflation.

Keep in mind that Monday’s vote was about lawmakers meeting voter-approved requirements that they pass a budget – ANY budget bill – by June 15 to keep receiving their paychecks.

Publicly for now, everyone is making nice.  Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon released a statement on Monday saying “we look forward to working with the Governor in the coming days to ensure we have a responsible budget in place for the start of the fiscal year that delivers prosperity and strengthens the future.”

Senate Budget Committee chair Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, told Calmatters “the Legislature is more than 95% in agreement with Newsom.”  Newsom, Atkins, and Rendon literally smiled for the cameras in a photo of their budget discussions tweeted out on Tuesday.

Behind closed doors, Newsom continues to press for his $11.5 billion May Revise plan to give rebates to car owners – $400 per car, for a maximum of $800.  Legislative Democrats want to give out $8 billion in rebates, $200 per taxpayer, limited to those earning under $125,000 a year for individuals and $250,000 for couples filing jointly.

One of the disputes is over how fast Californians would get relief under the competing plans.

As the Sacramento Bee reports, Department of Finance official Erica Li told lawmakers that “while the legislature’s budget includes a very important relief proposal to address these rising costs, as it’s currently structured, it will take longer to implement the smaller $8 billion and will not reach as many Californians when compared to the governor’s $11.5 billion proposal.”

Newsom’s senior advisor for communications Anthony York told Calmatters that Newsom also “remains opposed to massive ongoing spending” in the Legislative Democrat plan, which is ironic given the administration’s proposal for a record $300 billion state budget.

So far, no one is blinking.

Lawmakers and the Governor are likely testing one another’s resolve to see who will give in first.  If history is a judge, the Legislature will ultimately cave.

In 2011, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a budget that the Legislature’s Democrat majority sent him on a majority vote calling it “unbalanced.”  As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, “Democratic lawmakers had knowingly flirted with the possibility of a veto by stuffing their plan with the very things that Brown promised he would never sign.”

Brown exercised gubernatorial supremacy and largely dominated every future budget.  Newsom, too, has dominated his first three state budgets.

In an election year, legislative Democrats are now testing the limits of how far they can push Newsom in other areas to get what he wants – delivering immediate relief to struggling Californians.  While he will likely not veto the budget – or even issue a veto threat – his continued resistance to the plans put forward by Atkins and Rendon is further proof that the governor ultimately carries the upper hand in budget negotiations.

While Newsom wants a gas tax relief deal soon, expect the discussions over this and other thorny budget issues to drag into the summer.  Newsom and Legislative Democrats can reach a deal on a companion budget bill with changes to the main budget bill in order to win his signature by June 30, while punting the thorny issues for further discussion.

Meanwhile, Californians continue to get no relief from high gas prices and inflation from Sacramento.  On Wednesday, Legislative Republicans reminded them of that with a press event highlighting the 100th day legislative Democrats have refused to pass a gas tax suspension bill.

The longer Newsom and legislative Democrats bicker behind closed doors, the thornier the issues become for them ahead of the November elections.

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

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