State Issues

Expect Democrats to go wild with spending

Capitol building in Sacramento, where the legislature is back in session.
Capitol building in Sacramento, where the legislature is back in session. TNS

The Legislature reconvened this week with Democrats celebrating sweeping election wins that give them immense majorities in the Assembly and Senate and they are intending to use them.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom presided over the state Senate’s opening session, saying, “the world is looking to us.” Newsom will be inaugurated governor in a month, having promised voters a much more expansive – and expensive – array of public services: “Guaranteed health care for all. A ‘Marshall Plan’ for affordable housing. A master plan for aging with dignity. A middle-class workforce strategy. A cradle-to-college promise for the next generation. An all-hands approach to ending child poverty.”

Advocates for such causes have been frustrated for years, even decades, by a series of conservative-to-centrist governors, including Jerry Brown.

They hope the political stars are finally aligned – bigger Democratic legislative majorities, a governor who wants to do big, audacious things and, for now, an economy that’s generating billions of extra dollars, though not nearly enough to finance all these proposals.

It might not justify the aphorism uttered 152 years ago by Gideon J. Tucker, a New York lawyer, journalist, politician and judge: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” But it will be a definite break from the cautious past.

The first big issue likely to emerge is early childhood education, part of Newsom’s “cradle-to-college promise.”

Advocacy groups have pressed for universal pre-kindergarten for years, arguing it would close the “achievement gap” dividing the state’s six million K-12 students and attack California’s high poverty rate.

Brown was leery about expanding early childhood services and other educational “entitlements” because they tend to be very expensive and, once in place, almost impossible to reduce when revenues inevitably fall.

With Newsom coming into office, there’s little doubt that expanding pre-kindergarten spending will get a hard push – very likely in Newsom’s first budget.

It’s also a very high priority for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who was an early childhood education advocate before entering politics. It was a key element of an ambitious agenda, focusing on “economic justice,” that Rendon outlined Monday.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat, immediately introduced a nearly $2 billion package of bills for pre-kindergarten access for all low-income 4-year-olds and more 3-year-olds. “There’s no better place to invest. … There’s undisputed evidence that shows this is a fantastic remedy,” McCarty said.

Early childhood education is just one of many long-standing issues for a new governor and a bluer Legislature. Business groups are, for example, girding for new efforts by their traditional foes – unions, environmentalists, consumer protection advocates and personal injury lawyers – to advance their long-stalled agendas.

Dan Walters writes on matters of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public interest journalism organization. Email: dan@calmatters.org.

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