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Looking past Covid, Newsom touts ‘California way’ in annual state of the state speech

Newsom announced a new, vaguely outlined stimulus package, aimed to offset skyrocketing gas prices.

(CN) — In his annual "state of the state" speech Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom sought to move past the Covid-19 pandemic and refocus his agenda on fighting climate change and homelessness.

Throughout the roughly 18-minute-speech — brief by his standards — he sought to promote the "California way," a phrase he repeated again and again, which he used as a kind of short hand to contrast with illiberalism, political polarization, environmental destruction and xenophobia.

"California does democracy like nowhere else in the world," he said. "No other place offers opportunity to so many from such diverse backgrounds. But we cannot take our democracy for granted."

"The California way means rejecting old binaries and finding new solutions to big problems," he added.

He took a couple potshots at some Republican states, like Texas and Florida, for having higher Covid death rates and for having slower economic growth than California. And he made a derisive reference to a law recently passed in Florida that would limit discussion of sexuality in public schools.

Newsom also took the opportunity to announce a sort of stimulus package, "to put money back in Californians’ pockets to address rising gas prices." In an earlier draft of the speech, that line referenced a "gas tax rebate." It's unclear what the new policy will look like. A new gas tax in California is set to go into effect in July. Newsom has already proposed putting off that tax hike, but many Democratic legislators have expressed reluctance at taking such a step.

The average price of gas in California is up to $5.34-per-gallon (in certain parts of the state, it has risen well above $7 a gallon), and with President Joe Biden banning Russian energy imports, that cost is expected to keep rising. The surge in gas prices threatens the state's economic growth and may also drive people further into poverty. But it has a silver lining: Expensive gas means fewer drivers, and fewer drivers mean fewer carbon emissions.

Newsom praised California's "leadership in clean technology," including the manufacturing of electric cars and lithium batteries and bragged about the state's near $38 billion in "climate investments," another example of the "California way."

He also touted his own policies on homelessness.

"Just a few years ago, California lacked any comprehensive strategy — no accountability, and no meaningful state resources to solve the problem," he said. "But that’s all changed."

That may surprise many, especially in Los Angeles, for whom rows of tents are an everyday sight. And while Newsom did recently propose a plan to compel people with serious mental health and addiction issues into court-ordered treatment, the plan is little more than a framework, and short on specifics. He did not use the speech as an opportunity to iron out any of those details.

The issue, which has dominated American life for the last two years, was largely absent from the speech. Whereas in last year's speech, Newsom said the words "Covid" and "pandemic" a combined 28 times, according to the transcript, this year's speech mentioned them only four times, often in passing. Most of the state legislators in attendance appeared to be unmasked.

The roughly 18-minute speech began modestly, with Newsom saying, "Given the state of our world, I don’t imagine there are many people outside these walls waiting on the words that will be said here tonight," referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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