Millions for Climate, Environmental Priorities in Newsom’s May Budget

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced increased funding for climate-related programs as part of his May budget revision. (State of California)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom threw some more money into the environmental pot Thursday as part of the state’s May budget revision. The new funding includes about $250 million for climate-related programs, thanks to the state’s cap-and-trade program, and $75 million to fund an assessment of wildfire protection plans.

The update of his January budget proposal, required by the state constitution, reflects tax revenue collected through April 15. The record $213.5 billion spending plan includes about $4 billion in additional revenue above his January budget. The Legislature now has until June 15 to pass a budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A small portion of the extra funding is related to the state’s announcement yesterday that it would begin the process of banning the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos, which studies have shown harms brain development in young children. The budget now includes $5.7 million for research and development into safer alternatives.

In his public address today, Newsom responded to environmental critics who said the pesticide should be immediately banned, rather than phased out over as many as three years. “The reason we can’t phase it out tomorrow: If we do, we’ll replace it with even more toxic substances,” he said.

Newsom also defended a controversial tax on water bills that would fund programs to rebuild broken or degraded drinking water infrastructure in some of the state’s poorest communities.

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"We are going to get a water deal,” he said. “That’ll be a proud day, when the Legislature and the governor can align on providing a basic fundamental right. That’s clean and drinkable water at an affordable price for the most vulnerable Californians.”

The state estimates that 1 million Californians lack access to safe drinking water.

In March, Newsom floated a plan that could charge most water customers about 95 cents more each month, with heavy users paying up to $10 more. That idea was met with resistance from the Association of California Water Agencies.

Today, Newsom signaled he was wide open to negotiations on the tax.

“I’m not consumed by process, but by outcome,” he said. “We have three or four creative ideas that I’m not going to illuminate you on because I want to get to a solution. But we will get to a solution.”

Cap and Trade

California’s cap-and-trade auctions performed strongly, and the budget includes an extra $251.5 million in cap-and-trade money to promote climate-friendly housing development and sustainability projects. The money includes investments in:

  • $92 million for transit-oriented development and “neighborhood projects” that reduce emissions in heavily polluted neighborhoods.
  • $130 million for clean-energy vehicle programs. This includes $65 million to replace and upgrade agricultural vehicles, $50 million for electrifying semi-trucks and buses incentives, and $15 million for programs that help people replace old cars with electric vehicles.
  • $20 million for “climate smart agriculture." That includes $10 million for the Healthy Soils program to increase carbon sequestration, the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Additionally, the budget includes $10 million for methane reduction programs.
  • $8 million as part of ongoing funding for job training programs—mostly apprenticeships and workforce development initiatives—to help the state transition to a completely carbon neutral economy. The revise also includes $1.5 million for a study to outline “key actions the state must take to transition toward a carbon-neutral economy.”

Wildfire Protection

Beyond climate policy, Newsom’s proposal includes $75 million to study shutting down the power grid in certain areas when the risk of wildfire is high. Officials plan to cut power to some communities during windy and hot conditions—a preventative measure to keep utility infrastructure from sparking a fire.

Newsom said the effects of those shutdowns were worrying.

“Public power shutdowns: It’s coming,” he said. “It’s happening soon. I’m worried about it. We are all worried about it for [the] elderly. People’s power could be shut off not for a day or two but potentially a week.”

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Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos contributed to this post.

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