There are few policy topics with which Gov. Gavin Newsom has more familiarity than homelessness.
As a San Francisco supervisor in 2002, he drew national attention with his “care not cash” effort that favored funding for shelters and services over monthly stipends for those who spent their days and nights on the city’s streets. Now, more than 17 years later, it’s understandable that, as governor, he’s decided to be his own point person on addressing an issue that has become a statewide crisis.
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Case in point: During a stemwinder of a news conference on Friday rolling out his proposed state budget, Newsom scoffed at those who wondered about his broken campaign promise to appoint someone to lead his administration’s anti-homelessness effort.
“You want to know who’s the homeless czar?” Newsom asked reporters. “I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.”
HOMELESSNESS TOUR, TASK FORCE REPORT
With the number of men, women and children on California’s streets topping 150,000 in the most recent federal report, the governor is embarking on a weeklong tour of communities across the state to see some of the services being offered. On Monday, he heads to the Sierra foothills community of Grass Valley to view a facility that focuses on mental health assistance. He’ll visit locations in the Bay Area, Central Valley, Inland Empire and Los Angeles by week’s end.
Newsom’s weeklong focus on the topic comes as the task force he appointed is scheduled to send him a list of recommendations on Monday. And it comes on the heels of his budget proposal to allocate some $1.4 billion to homelessness services and healthcare, much of that as direct grants to local providers.
One note on the politics of this week: The governor looks as if he will be subtly reminding Californians that the path forward isn’t a partisan one. His event on Monday will include the Legislature’s newest member, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle (R-Bieber). And the itinerary looks to include a number of Republican-friendly communities, whose GOP legislators may also be invited to discuss what the state can — and should — do in the weeks and months to come.
NEWSOM’S NEW BUDGET
The $222-billion state budget proposal Newsom sent to the Legislature last week offered few surprises beyond efforts on homelessness and prescription drugs, the latter of which includes a first-in-the-nation effort for the state to sell its own generic medications.
The governor took strides to offer a few early items to Democratic legislators, like Medi-Cal benefits for seniors who are in the U.S. illegally and more slots in preschool classes for children from low-income families. But it’s worth keeping a close eye on the bigger picture: How much in additional spending will lawmakers demand, and how much will Newsom ultimately embrace? As the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office pointed out in October, long-term spending under the budget enacted over the summer will amount to almost $6 billion a year once fully implemented.
For now, the ball’s in the court of legislators. Fiscal committees in both houses will begin to review Newsom’s plan next week.
Newsom is also promoting more spending on wildfire prevention. And he’s proposed a tax on vaping products, one he insisted last week will find broad support in the Legislature. Then there was a bit of budget suspense hinted about on Friday when the governor said he’s working on creating a new state park, even though he won’t yet reveal the location.
And Newsom’s budget Q&A with state Capitol reporters — almost as long as the Netfix movie “The Irishman” — was full of interesting glimpses into the politics and personality of California’s 40th governor.
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