Newsom’s budget would add billions to fight drought, fires and boost California farms

By Sophia Bollag

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday will propose spending billions of additional dollars on drought response, wildfire suppression and rural workforce development programs, according to budget documents reviewed by The Sacramento Bee.

The governor’s plan includes $750 million in one-time money to help communities affected by the drought, including for water conservation, water efficiency, replenishing groundwater supplies and helping small farmers.

That money comes on top of $5.2 billion Newsom and lawmakers approved last year for drought response and will build on clean drinking water projects previously funded through the state budget, an administration official told The Bee.

Newsom’s 2022 budget plan also includes an additional $1.2 billion to fight and prevent wildfires, on top of money approved last year. That would fund 20 new state fire crews, as well as new helicopters, fire engines and bulldozers.

That includes $100 million for reforestation projects in areas where the natural landscape has been decimated by the state’s massive blazes, such as the Dixie Fire in Northern California, an administration official said.

Newsom’s plan also funds programs to train workers in new industries in rural California as part of the state’s response to climate change.

One program would put $44 million into developing a modern-day logging industry in California. Instead of old growth trees, the state wants to promote businesses that would clear and haul smaller trees and shrubs that fuel fires. That lower-value timber could be made into composite products, such as the kind used in IKEA furniture, an administration official said, which would give private industry a financial incentive to help the state prevent forest fires.

California’s lumber industry has been in decline for decades, largely because of environmental restrictions. Now, California doesn’t have nearly enough lumber mills to process the millions of trees that threaten to fuel megafires, forestry experts say.

Another program would put $50 million into the state’s four California State University farms to research ways farms can adapt to climate change, such as by testing drought resilient grasses and finding more efficient ways to feed livestock, said administration officials who agreed to speak only on background to candidly discuss the governor’s budget plans.

Newsom’s budget also proposes giving $83 million to California State University Bakersfield to research how to help oil and gas workers transition into new careers as the state decreases its use of planet-warming fossil fuels. The budget would add another $250 million to help those workers train for and find new jobs.

The Bakersfield campus sits in Kern County, home to much of California’s oil and gas industry, where workers will be displaced by Newsom’s policies to restrict drilling and ban sales of new gas-powered cars.

On Monday, Newsom will propose new spending on housing and homelessness programs, administration officials said. That will include $100 million specifically for developing affordable mobile home parks. The money won’t be specifically tied to rural communities, but administration officials said they believe the funds will disproportionately help those parts of the state.

Newsom’s budget announcement will also include new spending on recruiting, training and hiring more health care workers, including doctors, nurses, social workers and a new kind of worker the administration calls “community health workers,” an official said.

That funding would come on top of the $2.7 billion in COVID-19 response funding Newsom called for lawmakers to approve Saturday, and would be focused on longer-term health workforce development, including in rural communities where health workers are particularly scarce.

Newsom will unveil his full plan for the 2022-23 budget Monday, including how to spend a projected multibillion-dollar surplus. His plan is based on economic forecasts finalized in early December, administration officials said, before the omicron variant of COVID-19 surged in California and across the country.

Despite the continued economic uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has predicted California will see a $31 billion budget surplus in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The state has seen a massive surplus in the current budget year, too, which Newsom has estimated at $80 billion.


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