California is in the midst of a budget crisis that is likely to only get worse heading into the next fiscal year.
Yet right smack in the midst of this crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law a debt-laden budget that blows a whopping $734 million on refurbishing the California Capitol’s East Wing, which just so happens to house Newsom’s office.
That’s right: Newsom just spent $734 million and OK’d issuing a bunch of new debt so he can get some new office furniture and a fresh coat of paint.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a 2020-21 state budget he described as “balanced, responsible and protects public safety and health, education, and services to Californians facing the greatest hardships.”
Whatever its other virtues may be, the budget is far from “balanced,” at least as most folks outside the Capitol would define it.
The 2020-21 budget spends far more — at least $20 billion more — than projected revenues, even including billions of dollars from the state’s emergency reserve.
Billions more dollars counted as revenues in the budget are actually loans from dozens of state special funds — money collected for specific purposes, such as licensing fees — that also must be repaid eventually with interest.
The most interesting special fund raid is money set aside to rebuild the east wing of the state Capitol, which houses Newsom’s own office and those of legislators, as well as committee hearing rooms. The budget grabs $734 million and authorizes the issuance of bonds — borrowed money — for the construction project.
California has previously appropriated lots of other money to overhaul this portion of the Capitol complex.
The question is why this $734 million (and potentially more) was needed now, especially as the state may see a dip in revenue it brings in at the next tax filing date as COVID-19 hits the state hard for a second time.
There’s no specific word on how exactly Newsom wants to “refurbish” the building, or his office within it.
However, a major backer of the project, Assemblymember Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, in 2018 signaled he might personally want ornate doors featuring owls (a symbol of “wisdom”), stairwells carved to signify “wealth and power in numbers,” and some intricate pineapple carvings to emulate others installed in stairwells in 1870.
There is also the possibility of installing custom benches using wood from “Civil War-era trees that were hauled from Capitol Park last year,” including “an 85-foot-tall American elm, a 90-foot-tall tulip tree and a box elder.”
Just in case you thought everyone was engaging in belt-tightening in the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the global economy.
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