California lawmakers on Wednesday night approved a $300 billion budget with tax refunds for inflation relief, new spending for abortion access and healthcare for all undocumented immigrants.
The package, along with a series of “trailer bills,” heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his signature.
The Senate voted 28-6 to pass an amended version of the bill legislators first approved on June 15. The Assembly approved the bill with a 59-7 vote.
The amended budget reflects an agreements negotiated by Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.
Inflation relief vs. gas tax suspension
After weeks of haggling, the governor and legislators agreed to a package that will provide $200 to $1,050 to more than 17 million taxpayers, with more money going to lower-income families with dependents. The Franchise Tax Board will distribute the funds, which will likely start hitting Californians’ bank accounts sometime in the fall.
“We believe working Californians should benefit from revenue prosperity, and this core ideal helped us craft our refund plan,” said Rendon and Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, in a statement. “It aligns with our unwavering position that we do best when we take care of every Californian, especially those most in need.”
Republican lawmakers on Wednesday continued to push their colleagues to consider suspending the state’s 51-cent-gallon gas excise tax, which they say will provide quicker, more consistent relief for drivers struggling with persistently high fuel costs.
The tax will go up 3 cents on July 1 as part of an annual increase, meaning motorists will pay 54 cents per gallon.
Although state leaders won’t suspend the overall gas excise tax, the budget does include $439 million to put the diesel fuel tax on hold.
“Make no mistake, in two days, the state’s gas tax in California is going up,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield. “Many Californians whose family budgets have been crushed by rising gas prices will be in shock and in disbelief, and they will rightly be upset.”
However, Ting painted the Democrats’ inflation relief package as a better deal for Golden State residents.
“We did tax refunds because we value dollars in your bank account versus pennies at the pump,” Ting said. “Most families are going to be getting over $1,000. So I ask people, would you rather have a $1,000 check, or do want that 45 cents that maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t?”
Medi-Cal expansion, high-speed rail and abortion
Other highlights include funds for a Medi-Cal expansion, bonus checks for healthcare workers, increased abortion access and transportation funding.
California will become the first state to offer health care to all undocumented residents through a Medi-Cal expansion that will take effect by January 2024. It will cover about 700,000 immigrants ages 26-49 who had been left out of the program.
The state will also provide up to $1,500 to healthcare workers as “hero pay” for their challenging work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A transportation measure includes $14.8 billion for infrastructure projects — as well as funding for a contentious high-speed rail line, with a priority on the segment between Merced and Bakersfield.
Lawmakers have also opted to prioritize abortion access in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
California will spend more than $200 million to help pay for abortion and reproductive healthcare. This includes funds to offset the cost of abortion care for uninsured and low-income residents, as well as those traveling to California from anti-abortion states.
“With the budget the Senate passed today, we are putting our state’s wealth to work, providing $17 billion in relief for Californians facing higher prices at the gas pump and in the grocery store, and putting away record reserves for possible future downturns,” said Atkins and Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Chair Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.
“Funding for important climate and wildfire efforts, schools, broadband, transportation, and other programs will benefit Californians for generations, as does our clear commitment to abortion rights and services in the aftermath of Roe — and beyond,” Atkins and Skinner added.