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Newsom Takes the Reins in Sacramento

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January 9, 2019

Gavin Newsom became the 40th governor of California this week as he took the oath of office on the west steps of the Capitol.

The 51-year-old father of four succeeds Governor Jerry Brown, a four-term governor and fixture of California politics since the 1970s.  Brown steered the Golden State out of the depths of the Great Recession and leaves California with a sizeable rainy day fund but otherwise discounts any talk of his “legacy.”

For many, the biggest question about the new governor is whether he will he follow the relative fiscal restraint of his predecessor or spend the surplus on the “bold ideas” he outlined in this week’s speech and on the campaign trail last year.

What became clearer at the inaugural, however, is that Newsom seems to be focusing on health care, education and housing as the first of his priorities.

The new Governor directed all California agencies, including the massive Medi-Cal system, to collaborate in ordering prescription drugs.  This will make California the largest single purchaser in the nation in an attempt to lower prices.  (Coincidentally, the Trump Administration is also gathering information on drug price increases announced at the beginning of the year.)

Newsome is also seeking to expand health insurance coverage by re-introducing the individual mandate in California and cover undocumented individuals until age 26 (up from 19.)

This, of course, puts him at odds with the Trump Administration and the GOP but Governor Newsom emphasized his desire to make California the antidote to the current President. 

Governor Brown did not shy away from that role, especially when it came to climate change, but he did not wrap himself in it as completely as it appears Newsom is doing.

It would not be the first time that Newsom has challenged the establishment.  As mayor of San Francisco, he allowed same-sex marriage despite Proposition 8.  His action eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized the practice.

In his education priorities, the Governor pledged more funding for expanded pre-K programs, something the California Catholic Conference has long advocated, and a second tuition-free year of community college in addition to the one Californians now enjoy.

Governor Newsom also pledged to introduce a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing in the state.

It is these kinds of big, bold projects that raise questions about the new governor’s fiscal restraint.  We will learn more when he works through his first budget process in the coming months.