California’s budget surplus has exploded to $68B

Atop the spending list is a proposal to send $8 billion in payments to taxpayers, a move that Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Senate Budget Chair Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) pitched as a way to combat rising costs of energy and consumer goods. The plan would also include rebates to small businesses and nonprofits to help repay federal unemployment debt, along with grants that could be used to offset new costs from the state’s supplemental Covid-19 sick leave program.

The rebate proposal is reminiscent of the Golden State Stimulus checks the state mailed out last year. Meanwhile Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed an $11 billion relief package to offset rising gas prices. The governor is expected to reveal an updated state spending plan next month.

Around $8 billion would go to bolster the state’s budget reserve funds, which the Senate estimates would total $43 billion.

The Senate proposal also calls for large increases in education spending. The plan would increase the base funding schools receive by $5 billion for the upcoming year and by $10 billion in 2024-25. Those dollars would come out of a separate pool of revenue that the state is constitutionally required to spend on K-12 schools.

Nearly $5 billion would be directed to universities and community colleges for deferred facilities maintenance and expansion of student housing, a dearth of which has led to criticism of the state’s three public higher education systems. Another $1 billion would be earmarked for preschool programs and waivers to support childcare for low-income residents.

Other spending proposals laid out in the plan:

— $1 billion on developing the state’s Medi-Cal program for undocumented residents, with the goal that the first-in-the-nation program start on June 1, 2023, rather than 2024 timeline currently scheduled.

— $18 billion for climate resiliency programs, including $7.5 billion to build a new state water system and rebalance existing water supplies, and $6.6 billion for wildfire prevention.

— $3 billion in each of the next three years to expand Project Homekey, which converts hotels into housing for homeless residents, and to provide funding for local homelessness programs.

— $2.7 billion for affordable housing projects and home ownership programs, including $1 billion for a new fund to help first-time homebuyer purchase homes with little or no downpayment.

— $20 billion for infrastructure projects laid out in Newsom’s January budget proposal.

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