Lawmakers Helping Newsom Fix Budget Deficit Have Never Done it Before

By: Alex Trent | Published: Mar 25, 2024

California is currently in a spending crisis with a projected budget deficit of at least $38 billion. The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has taken flack from critics for failing to keep spending under control. 

A new Politico report casts doubt on Newsom’s project to fix the budget. It documents that some of the lawmakers in charge of it are first-year members who have never led state budget negotiations.

New Lawmakers

Politico reports that the members of the state Assembly and Senate helping Gavin Newsom have “have never even led state budget negotiations in good times, let alone addressed a shortfall of this magnitude.”

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The California capitol building in Sacremento seen at an upward angle.

Source: Alex Wild/Wikimedia

The article points out that this inexperience “extends to the entire class of lawmakers in Sacramento, some of whom were still in short pants during the Great Recession.”

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Time is Running Out

The budget for California’s state government has to be approved and ready to go by the middle of the summer. 

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Sand slips to the bottom of an hourglass, symbolizing time ticking away.

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This realistically leaves only three months left to tackle this huge deficit budget that totals in the tens of billions. California has the largest state budget in the entire United States.

Deficit Dispute

There is some dispute over the actual projected budget deficit. Newsom’s office originally reported that the number was around $38 billion. 

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Gavin Newsom speaks at Lake Tahoe.

Source: The United States Senate/Wikimedia

However, CalMatters reported in February that Newsom is underestimating the extent of the budget deficit. The Legislative Analyst’s office projected the budget shortfall for 2024 to 2025 to be close to $73 billion.

Historic Number

The budget deficit has been seen as record-breaking by many. Gary Dietrich a political analyst for CBS said “”Seventy-three billion, historically big number. That is important to understand, that is not a small number, that is a big number.”

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US bills rolled up and placed together in a photo.

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Just a few years before, California was riding high on a multiple-billion-dollar surplus. CalMatters reported that in 2022, the state budget had a surplus of more than $97.5 billion.

What Happened?

The Legislative Analyst’s Office published a Fiscal Outlook report in December that examined how exactly the state has gotten here.

An aerial view of a street lined with cars and houses in California, by palm trees, and underneath a clear blue sky.

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Chief to blame was a shortfall of expected revenue. California granted filing extensions to many residents for their taxes in 2022. The report also blamed higher borrowing costs that have stalled the state’s economy. Less investment from residents means less tax revenue for California to collect.

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No Stone Unturned

It will take more than cutting a few corners to right the ship again. It is likely that many of the cuts in places like environmental programs, homelessness, housing, and others could disappoint voters in California.

Gavin meets with California homeowners in a virtual meeting.

Source: Government of California/Wikimedia

“Everything is on the table. They listed all the major areas of the state budget,” Dietrich said.

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New Experience

These newly appointed members of the state legislature have quite an arduous task ahead of them. With little to no experience, they have to right the ship on California’s ballooning budget crisis.

The California Republic flag hangs in the State's capitol.

Source: Cullen328/Wikimedia

Jesse Gabriel, one of the recent appointees to the Assembly Budget Committee, expressed their rookie status. “This is going to be a new experience for almost everybody, including me,” said Gabriel.

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Who Has Experience?

Reportedly, there are only eight state lawmakers in California who served during the Great Recession in 2007-2009. These eight lawmakers also have no current positions of power in the legislature, meaning the effort to reform the budget is left to newer ones.

A road intersection in California.

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Lawmakers will have to rely on political aides and become quick studies of budget negotiations in record time for the budget to be properly reduced by the deadline.

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Resistance to Cuts

Some of the rookie lawmakers have never even had to vote on such cuts to the budget before, often running campaigns that promised to give their constituents extra things from the government to win their seats in the first place. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom wearing sunglasses and a white button up shirt

Source: Wikimeida Commons

These lawmakers will have to find a way to strike a balance between massive budget cuts and protecting key programs and promises that got them elected.

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Tough Budgeting

California lawmakers are having to quickly learn the art of “tough budgeting.”  Senate Pro Tem Mike McGuire has enlisted the help of one of the few Great Recession holdovers in the legislature, Scott Wiener.

A man writes notes on a sheet of paper.

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“We work hand in hand together. We’ve been in the trenches together, tackling some of the biggest issues facing the state and Legislature over these past many years,” McGuire said of Wiener.

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Borrowing Versus Cuts

While cuts are being strongly considered, another option the state has is to borrow from its own state funds. California is currently sitting on cash that has already been earmarked for specific programs, which could be redirected to soften the deficit instead of slashing more programs.

Close-up of a person's hands as they count a stack of US dollar bills. The person is wearing a dark blue shirt, and their fingernails are painted in a light color

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As lawmakers scramble to get budget negotiations done in time, Californians are just hoping this isn’t the start of another Great Recession.

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