State budget surplus expected to be bigger, more flexible for COVID-19 relief

State News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGET) — The state is expecting much higher than forecasted revenues than when lawmakers first started cautiously planning in January due to COVID-19, but with the state budget due by the end of June, there is now a lot to consider with not much time.

On Wednesday, state Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly laid out their financial priorities with more money than initially expected.

“Our budget situation has pretty drastically changed,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who is the budget chairman.

Ting said while the Assembly is still waiting on a final budget estimate for the year, lawmakers expect the state surplus to be between $15 billion to $20 billion.

That money — coupled with $26 billion collected in federal stimulus — makes this year a more flexible one for spending.

“We also want to make sure we’re protecting everyday Californians,” Ting said. “We have millions of vulnerable Californians before COVID who were living paycheck to paycheck. They’re worried about evictions, they’re worried about homelessness, they’re worried about their jobs — and COVID has just continued to exacerbate them.”

With the extra money, lawmakers are eyeing a potential expansion of the Golden State Stimulus, including the possibility of making another round of direct payments to low-income Californians and potentially expanding the amount of people eligible for payment. They’re all considering providing more help for small businesses.

In addition, the proposed budget plan includes boosts to help with a full return to in-person instruction, potentially marking the end of distance learning for California public schools.

“We want to make sure schools are going to be open in the fall, and so we’re going to take every precaution to do that,” Ting said. “But frankly, if we don’t do anything in this year’s budget around distance learning, it means that things will go back to normal.”

Ting added that the Assembly plan aligns with what state Senate Democrats called for earlier this month, including investments to tackle housing and homelessness; funds to make college more affordable; and making health care accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status.

“We intend to propose a full expansion for all undocumenteds in MediCal,” Ting said.

Like the Senate, the Assembly did not include a total price tag on the proposals.

California’s updated economic forecast is set to be released in May, which is when the governor’s own budget plan is due.

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