March 14, 2019

2019: The Opening of a New Chapter in California

The California Legislature returned to Sacramento in January to begin the first year of the 2019-2020 legislative session. Most notably, its arrival coincided with the inauguration of Governor Gavin Newsom. Governor Newsom’s inauguration marks the completion of Governor Jerry Brown’s historic political career and signals the opening of a new chapter in California executive leadership.

Political observers have enjoyed trying to compare the two governors and how they manage people, determine and evaluate policy, and engage with the media. These comparisons are fascinating and are likely to continue into the first months of 2019. Meanwhile, Governor Newsom has been busy putting together his new administration. January was a month of making numerous political appointments to agencies and hiring new staff in the governor’s office. It was also the first opportunity for Governor Newsom to provide Californians with his policy priorities in the shape of his proposed 2019-2020 state budget. The following is a brief overview of some of the key policy proposals that Newsom has outlined for the year ahead.

The need to build new and affordable housing has been identified as a policy priority by the governor and by many legislators. The state’s housing stock is not keeping up with demand and home rental prices are outpacing the median incomes of many Californians. Local jurisdictions are often placing needless hurdles in front of their required housing elements and making it nearly impossible to construct more housing. Western Growers is also working to find pathways to alleviate the housing crisis; especially as it impacts farmworker housing. We need additional farmworker housing now and we believe that reducing the barriers to getting that housing constructed will have the added benefit of relieving pressure on other housing needs.

We were pleased to see that the governor has identified and publicly reinforced the need for all Californians to have safe and affordable drinking water. His administration is supportive of all of the concepts that were a part of SB 623 (Monning) from last year. SB 623 was strongly supported by Western Growers. We continue to work diligently with all stakeholders on this topic and remain hopeful that this issue will be positively resolved this year.

Governor Newsom has placed great emphasis on healthcare in his budget. In addition to several proposals meant to reduce the cost of prescriptions, the budget includes $260 million for a proposed expansion of Medi-Cal to additional undocumented adults. The proposal would expand full-scope coverage under Medi-Cal to undocumented adults aged 19-25. This would be a substantial change in Medi-Cal eligibility. The budget anticipates that this revision would cover about 138,000 undocumented adults in just the first year alone. The governor has also called for an increase in Covered California subsidies for individuals that have incomes between 250 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level in order to increase their access to coverage. While not universal coverage; this proposal begins a conversation in that direction. The subsidies would be funded by revenue from a yet-to-be authorized state individual mandate. This tax would be paid by those who fail to obtain comprehensive healthcare coverage. There will undoubtedly be significant conversation around healthcare this year.

The proposed 2019-2020 state budget specifically recognizes the devastation that California has faced from wildfires. Additional funding is proposed for new air tankers, new fire engines, and replacing the state’s aging firefighting helicopters. A request is also being made for $214 million for increased fire prevention and fuel reduction projects. The budget also recognizes the lost property tax revenues by local governments and proposes to backfill those property tax losses over a specified time period.

Parental leave is another issue that has been widely discussed by the governor and many legislators. It comes as no surprise that the budget proposes to expand the Paid Family Leave program to six months. The details of this program and how best to implement it are to be determined by a separate task force.

The above-mentioned topics represent a high-level snapshot of some of the policy themes that Governor Newsom has included in his proposed 2019-2020 state budget. In addition, legislators will no doubt introduce thousands of bills this year on a myriad of topics. Western Growers staff will be monitoring and engaging on many of these items to ensure continued profitability and sustainability for our members and their employees. Fasten your seatbelt!