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Walters: Newsom Seeks Attention With New Budget



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Gavin Newsom is, to use an old-fashioned term, a show-off, someone who constantly seeks attention with extravagant depictions of what he’s done or wants to do.

Sometimes it works out —as it did when he was mayor of San Francisco and he defied state law to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Sometimes it doesn’t. Whatever happened to that campaign promise that as governor he would build 3.5 million new housing units?

Newsom’s ‘Display of Bravado’ a Response to Recall Campaign

Dan Walters


If anything, the recall campaign to drive him from office has made Newsom’s incessant boasting even louder, with last week’s campaign-like rollout of a revised 2021-22 budget a full-throated display of bravado.

Although Newsom’s pandemic shutdown orders triggered a severe recession, throwing millions out of work, by happenstance, the state also saw an unprecedented surge of tax revenues, tens of billions of extra dollars.

High-income Californians, who are the biggest source of taxes, saw their investments soar as the Federal Reserve’s loose money policies inflated asset values, particularly stocks, and the state is reaping a cornucopia of revenues from that phenomenon.

‘California Comeback Plan’

Newsom announced that the budget had a $75.7 billion surplus and with another $26 billion in unanticipated federal pandemic aid, he could propose a “$100 billion California Comeback Plan.” It’s new spending on everything from direct payments to low-and moderate-income families to expanded child care and school aid, water supply, an expensive assault on homelessness, and help for small business.

Newsom unveiled major pieces of the plan in personal appearances around the state, each time portraying it as transformational, or even revolutionary, in scope with himself in the starring role.

He capped the week on Friday by introducing the full, $267.8 billion budget, in which he repeatedly re-emphasized its uniquely expansive nature.

Despite Rollouts, Newsom Still in Danger of Being Ousted

In some measure, the budget and its elaborately staged, week-long rollout were clearly aimed at blunting the recall campaign, pointedly providing benefits to myriad economic and cultural groups with his personal imprimatur.

However, he’s actually in little danger of being ousted, recent polls indicate. There were other implied motives, such as seizing the opportunity to once again draw attention to himself by saying and/or doing headline-grabbing things, this time with a progressive agenda of services and programs that goes beyond anything found anywhere else in the country.

“This is a generational budget,” Newsom said at the close of his 1 1/2-hour piece-by-piece presentation. “This is an historic, transformational budget. This is not a budget that plays small ball. We’re not playing in the margins. We are not trying to fail more efficiently.”

However, while the budget’s new provisions include items that those on the left have been pushing for years, such as universal child care and pre-kindergarten, it raises a question about how they will be financed when the federal money dries up and the current revenue bubble bursts. By creating new entitlements, the budget sets the stage for future battles over tax increases to finance their continuation.

Finally, it rekindles speculation about Newsom’s future, assuming that he beats the recall and wins a second term next year, both of which are highly likely. A run for the White House has always appeared to be Newsom’s end game, but when Joe Biden won the presidency last year —and Californian Kamala Harris became vice president —his 2024 pathway was blocked.

Newsom’s move into national politics could be a run for the U.S. Senate in 2024, assuming Dianne Feinstein does not seek re-election, which seems to be increasingly probable. Anew Berkeley IGS pollfound that just 35% of California voters approve of her performance.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.