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Newsom rolls out massive $286 billion budget proposal for state swimming in cash

Following last year’s record budget bolstered by the largest surplus in state history, California could spend another record to continue the fight against Covid, climate change and wildfires.

(CN) — As Covid-19 surges across the Golden State, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled his budget priorities for the 2022 fiscal year on Monday. Among his high hopes: to curb the pandemic through increased testing and tackle another emergency threatening California — climate change.

With the state flush with cash thanks to the prosperity of its highest earners despite the pandemic, Newsom's record $286 billion budget proposal dubbed the California Blueprint suggests an additional $2.7 billion to increase vaccination, boosters, statewide testing and increase medical personnel.

“The goal this year is to do more testing, get those vaccine boosters, do what we can to fight the latest surge,” Newsom said in a press conference Monday.

State Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement it is “critically important for California to replenish our depleted rent relief funds, given the continuing pandemic-related economic challenges renters face.”

He added: “So many people are still struggling to pay rent and stay housed. Ideally, the federal government will provide these funds, but if they do not, the state should do so."

The massive proposed budget represents a 9% increase over last year's then-record breaker. It prioritizes five areas identified by Newsom as “California’s biggest challenges:" Covid-19, climate change, homelessness, inequality and safety.

While Covid-19 remains top of mind, Newsom’s proposal includes historic investments in fighting the ravages of wildfire and climate change on an increasingly thirsty California.

“With major new investments to tackle the greatest threats to our state’s future, the California Blueprint lights the path forward to continue the historic progress we’ve made on our short-term and long-term challenges, including responding to the evolving pandemic, fighting the climate crisis, taking on persistent inequality and homelessness, keeping our streets safe and more,” Newsom said.

The spending proposal calls for $1.2 billion — in addition to last year’s $1.5 billion investment — to increase forest management and other wildfire prevention measures.

The $648 million wildfire spending package would fund forest thinning, replanting trees and prescribed burns, activities which improve biodiversity, watershed health, carbon sequestration, air quality and recreation.

Purchasing firefighting equipment also made the cut with $99 million earmarked to purchase four additional Fire Hawk Helicopters and $45 million to purchase additional Helitanker helicopters. The proposal earmarks $68 million to staff additional fire crews and convert seasonal fire crews to year-round availability.

It also calls for a $6.1 billion investment — in addition to $3.9 billion from last year’s budget — toward zero-emissions vehicles by continuing to transition to emissions-free trucks and buses and offering tax credits to companies that make zero-emissions vehicles, which Newsom noted are increasingly moving into the Golden State.

As for the judicial branch, Newsom’s proposal includes investments in technology innovation spurred by remote proceedings conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than $33 million in General Fund dollars would go toward implementing and supporting remote access to courtroom proceedings via a publicly accessible audio stream for every courthouse in the state.

Funding for 23 new trial court judgeships and $34.7 million to support technology modernization to promote public access to digital records and court proceedings by expanding electronic case filing, digitizing court documents, enabling online dispute resolutions and enhancing remote proceedings also make up the planned spending on the judiciary.

In a statement, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said Newsom “clearly recognizes how important equal access to justice is for all Californians.”

But Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron blasted Newsom’s proposed budget, saying it “isn’t going to transformative projects to improve the lives of Californians, but rather to clean up from years of Democratic mismanagement.”

She added: “They regulated our timber industry nearly out of existence — now we have to spend $44 million to rebuild it. They failed to build enough water storage (and are still not proposing to add any) — now we have to spend $750 million on drought projects. They bungled the response to Covid — now they want another $2.7 billion."

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