Top Democrats in the state Senate sent a similar message on Wednesday with the release of a document highlighting their “key values” heading into budget negotiations later this spring. It runs through a long list — more than 40 items! — of past accomplishments that they aim to shield from cuts, though it does not get into the specifics of a spending plan.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, in a statement: “California’s economic outlook remains solid, despite a reduction in the previously forecasted surplus. We are entering this year in a position of strength, but we also know that individuals and families are bearing the brunt of inflation. That’s why it’s important that we protect the progress we have already made.”
Californians, on the other hand, aren’t feeling too confident about where things are headed.
A new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that only 37% of respondents are confident that the governor and the Legislature will be able to balance the budget without making significant cuts to state programs and services. That includes 60% of Democrats, 28% of no party preference voters and just 5% of Republicans.
And 62%, including majorities across partisan lines, favored Newsom’s plan to scale back spending on climate change mitigation and electric car subsidies, which has been lambasted by environmental groups.
In contrast to the many programs that Senate Democrats want to safeguard, their budget values document did not identify any areas where they would be open to cuts. It did, however, suggest some alternatives for navigating the shortfall, which is projected to continue for the next few years. One option was to “explore common sense revenue options that protect the middle class and small businesses” — which sounds like a euphemism for a tax hike on high-income earners and large corporations.
Atkins’ office hosted a briefing on the document Wednesday, but it was off the record, despite objections from reporters, so we cannot share what was said.
In a follow-up email, attributed only to the Office of the Pro Tem, a spokesperson shared that “we will work to mitigate” a few of Newsom’s budget proposals targeting reductions in programs that are a priority for Senate Democrats, though the response did not address a question about what potential cuts might be on the table. As for raising taxes, they didn’t entirely rule it out:
“In past downturns, budgets have included tax increases on the middle class. We are making clear that we will work to avoid increasing taxes on the middle class and small businesses.”
More time for taxes: Another complicating factor in Newsom and lawmakers putting together a budget by the mid-June deadline: Less certainty on the tax revenue picture because many Californians will file their returns later than usual.
Shortly after the series of deadly atmospheric rivers devastated wide swaths of California in late December and early January, the Internal Revenue Service extended the filing deadline from April 18 to May 15 for affected taxpayers. Now, the IRS has announced it’s adding even more time — until Oct. 16 — for individuals and businesses in 45 of the state’s 58 counties. Here’s the list.
“We’re going to have to make more projections and assumptions because the cash we could normally have in the bank in April, we’re not going to receive until mid-October,” H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, told KCRA.
You might recall reports during California’s 2019 wildfires of domestic workers who were required to work in evacuation zones and to clean houses before the smoke and ash had subsided.
That’s because California’s domestic workers are left out of workplace safety protections, a decades-old exclusion withroots in the nation’s early labor laws, which left out many Black workers. But advocates are trying — again — to change that, reports CalMatters’ California Divide reporter Jeanne Kuang.
The California Domestic Workers Coalition held an event at the state Capitol on Wednesday to highlight its bill, introduced by state Sen. María Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat, to remove the exclusion, allowing the state’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety to issue rules for any household employing a domestic worker.
Kimberly Alvarenga, director of the coalition: “The goal of this is really to prevent injuries and hazards from happening, as it would be with any other industry, and all the privileges that you and I have every day when we go to work.”
Newsom, in his veto of the previous bill: “The places where people live cannot be treated in the exact same manner as a traditional workplace or worksite from a regulatory perspective. Many individuals to whom this law would apply … lack the expertise to comply with these regulations.”
Senate Bill 43 would update the criteria that determines if a person is “gravely disabled” to include the potential for serious physical and mental harm, or the inability to attend to their personal safety. Supporters say the current criteria are open to different interpretations, and let people fall through the cracks by allowing them to be released as long as they can provide for their own food, clothing and shelter — which often ends up in them cycling back to hospitals or to jail.
SB 363 would establish a real-time dashboard with information about the availability of beds in a range of psychiatric and substance-abuse facilities. Access to an up-to-date database will reduce delays and extended stays in emergency rooms, proponents say.
Other supporters include Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher of Chico and Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, as well as advocates from NAMI California, the California State Association of Psychiatrists and the Psychiatric Physicians Alliance of California.
Dr. Emily Wood, California State Association of Psychiatrists: “As physicians and behavioral healthcare providers it’s essential that we respect all the rights of our patients, including the right to receive care from us. … When we’re in the position where we cannot keep a person hospitalized to care for them when their families are begging us to not let them back out on the street, we’re on the side of that patient.”
In other mental health news: A new analysis by Kaiser Family Foundation shows calls and texts to the new national hotline for suicide prevention and crisis were answered at a rate of 91% in its first six months last year, although there was variation in the number of “in-state” answer rates.
Individuals who reach out to the 988 number (previously a ten-digit number known as Lifeline) are connected to a counselor and can receive crisis counseling, resources and referrals. In California, the in-state answer rate — or the number of calls and texts that were responded to by professionals within the state — was 88%. Higher answer rates in states including California were attributed partly to legislation that allows the state to collect cell phone fees, according to the analysis.
2 The student dyslexia screening debate
For years, the California Teachers Association has opposed universal dyslexia screening for students, helping to defeat legislation that would have mandated it. But another legislative battle looms as classroom teachers advocate for all students to be tested, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from Glendale who is dyslexic, is trying for the third time to pass legislation that mandates screening for students in kindergarten through second grade.
Dyslexia affects 1 in 5 people in the United States, but early screening and support can mitigate or even prevent illiteracy stemming from the learning disability. That’s why classroom teachers across the state oppose the teachers union’s stance, saying it perpetuates a “wait-to-fail” approach to reading instruction that forces educators to sit by while students fall further and further behind.
The California Teachers Association doesn’t understand the benefits of screening all students for dyslexia, said Megan Potente, one of the co-directors of Decoding Dyslexia CA, a grassroots advocacy group.
Potente: “I think there’s some misinformation. Some of the reasons for their opposition aren’t supported by the research.”
Although it has not taken a position on the latest bill, the teachers association opposed Portantino’s last two bills. Claudia Briggs, a spokesperson for the union, said the association’s leadership team believed that the bills would have caused “unintended harmful consequences.”
The association says universal screening takes time away from instruction and may misidentify English learners as dyslexic. Briggs said the union would decide its position on the new bill this month.
More education news: While California is home to the most undocumented college students in the country, few receive the financial aid the state promises to these legally vulnerable learners. That’s according to a Wednesday report by the agency that oversees state financial aid, the California Student Aid Commission.
Of those who did apply, half were denied aid for benefits, such as having their full tuition at University of California and California State University covered;
And even among those who were offered aid, 39% didn’t receive it.
The report has an answer: “A significant portion are either not enrolling in college after applying for aid or not able to complete the final additional steps to ensure their aid is disbursed.”
The commission partially faults itself for requiring undocumented students and their families to complete forms with questions that are “duplicative, confusing, or not applicable to undocumented students.” Other issues include poor training for high school counselors and student fears that applying for aid may make their families targets for deportation. And even with state aid, college is too expensive for many undocumented students, who aren’t eligible for federal grants.
Anglers and commercial fishers threw a curveball at a virtual meeting held Wednesday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The agency proposed to restrict commercial and recreational salmon fishing this summer, citing evidence that their populations are crashing. Many anglers lashed back: Instead of asking for an easing of the limits, they requested a total shutdown of the fishery.
David Muñoz, a commercial fisherman: “It’s a no-brainer — we should not be on the water. … Please close the season.”
The agency’s decision on how much to restrict the salmon season, which opens in May, will be announced next month. Options for reducing the catch include short fishing windows for commercial fishers and reducing the daily catch limit for recreational anglers from two to one salmon.
The length of each year’s fishing season typically varies, with shorter seasons during times when fish numbers are down. Only twice has California’s commercial salmon fishing season been entirely closed — in 2008 and 2009.
The meeting, which lasted about six hours, brimmed with expletives and accusations during the public comment period.
Jared Davis, owner of Salty Lady Sportfishing, a Sausalito charter fishing service, blamed the collapse of salmon runs on state water officials prioritizing human water supply over ecosystems. As an example, he cited last month’s actions by state water officials and Gov. Newsom when they suspended basic flow rules in the Delta to increase water storage in reservoirs.
Davis: “Salmon, fisheries and the environment have long taken a backseat when it comes to water and power.”
After years of drought, reduced flows and warm water in the Sacramento River, the Chinook salmon population is far lower than its historic average. Last fall, fewer fish than almost ever before swam up the river to spawn — 62,000 adult Chinook. Nearly all of the eggs perished in warm water, probably caused by low flows from reservoirs depleted during the drought.
Angler Richard James suggested Californians eat more veggies. “A lot of this water goes to feeding cows … if you want some salmon, maybe you should eat less beef and less dairy products,” he said.
CalMatters previously has reported how biologists have mounted an ambitious, hands-on effort to help salmon return to the far northern part of California.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s bullet train project is still lacking enough money to complete its initial segment in the San Joaquin Valley, much less financing for a statewide system.
CalMatters California Divide reporter Alejandro Lazo: In “Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World,” author Malcolm Harris tells tales of the city’s founding, highlighting how some grew rich through technology and science while others were left out of the growth and prosperity.