The final round of the California budget bout- POLITICO

BUDGET SHOWDOWN: If the battle over California’s state budget were a boxing match, the fight would be in the 12th round.

This isn’t boxing, though, so don’t expect any oversize championship belts, knockout punches (fingers crossed, for everyone’s sake) or even Snoop Dogg appearances (you know what I’m talkin’ about, Tyson v. Jones Jr. viewers). Still, the days leading up to a June 15 deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget will assuredly bring their fair share of sweat, jawing and fancy footwork on the part of lawmakers and Co. — all free of steep pay-per-view rates.

As negotiations reach the homestretch, a behemoth of a budget bill hit the Legislature’s website on Wednesday — the kind of legislation long enough to test the Legislature’s systems, including, presumably, its printers. The bill, reflecting a joint Assembly-Senate budget agreement, cleared the Senate Budget Committee today and is “likely” to reach the Senate floor Monday, its committee chair, state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), tweeted today.

“Meanwhile, negotiations w/ @GavinNewsom continue,” she wrote.

Those negotiations have, by all appearances, drawn their fair share of haggling despite the state swimming in a record budget surplus. Part of the rub has to do with how much cash to put toward ongoing costs, as revenues are still buoyed by massive influxes of pandemic relief and a tangled web of other variables make it difficult to predict how much California can expect to rake in next year. That’s not to mention the Legislative Analyst’s Office warning about the heightened risk of a recession over the next two years — a caution with the power to reverberate in a state still haunted by painful ‘08-era cuts.

Beyond those number-crunching wrinkles, there’s considerable daylight between statehouse leadership and Gov. Gavin Newsom in several policy areas, including school funding, an arena where the Legislature passed on a Newsom proposal meant to shield school districts from funding dips associated with pandemic-era enrollment declines.

It’s a move that has the education community “reeling,” longtime school lobbyist Kevin Gordon told Playbook PM last week.

Meanwhile, as Democrats prepare to finalize details, Assembly Republicans are trying to put on the brakes with a “Where Did the Money Go?” campaign, complaining that the state is spending without accountability, pointing to homelessness programs and wildfire prevention that they say have yet to yield results — as well as the backlog at the EDD that left many Californians waiting months for Covid-relief help.

“The bottom line is this: Here in California we continue to pay the most to get the least in results,” said Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), standing in front of the Capitol this morning.

Another bottom line: Republicans have little power to halt a mass surplus-era spend in a Legislature dominated by Democrats.

So, if you’re watching ringside as the final round of California’s budget bout concludes, look for Newsom and Democratic leadership in the corners.

HAPPY THURSDAY AFTERNOON! Welcome to California Playbook PM, a POLITICO newsletter that serves as an afternoon temperature check of California politics and a look at what our policy reporters are watching. Today is our last edition until we return in August for the legislative homestretch. Got tips or suggestions? Shoot an email to [email protected] and [email protected] or send a shout on Twitter. DMs are open!

FAST FOOD WORKERS ON STRIKE: Cooks and cashiers at California eateries up and down the state today are on strike demanding better pay and working conditions while promoting Assembly Bill 257, which would give fast food workers bargaining power.

The bill, backed by organized labor, would establish the Fast Food Sector Council and authorize it to set minimum standards on wages, working hours and health and safety conditions. Lorena Gonzalez, leader of the California Labor Federation and a former member of the Assembly, was in San Diego this morning alongside striking Jack in the Box employees.

But a group of business leaders has already coalesced to fight the bill. The campaign to Stop AB 257 says union leaders are pushing a “false narrative” of widespread labor and wage violations to pass a law that they say will raise prices at restaurants. The bill is scheduled for a hearing Monday in the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement.

CARE COURT PUSHBACK: It’s crunch time for CARE Court. Public conservators and guardians, along with counties, are putting a full-court press on the Newsom administration to include funding for the additional expenses they say the governor’s plan for the new civil court system — for people with severe mental health conditions — will cost them. Newsom’s proposed budget contains nearly $65 million to create the system.

But while the administration has promised to work with cities and counties to estimate their additional costs, the proposed budget doesn’t include specific dollar figures for that — and it leaves the conservators and guardians completely out of the mix. “California must finally come to the table to support the vulnerable citizens we serve by dedicating $200 million annually for our crucial safety-net services,” Scarlet Hughes, executive director of the California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians and Public Conservators, said at a news briefing this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the California State Association of Counties is working up estimates for additional costs to counties and suggesting potential changes to the bill that would create CARE Court, SB 1338. CSAC’s senior legislative representative, Farrah McDaid Ting, said the additional costs to counties will likely be north of $400 million but less than a billion. — Victoria Colliver

PINK TAX PROGRESSES: A proposal to ban businesses from charging more for products marketed to a specific gender has moved a step closer to reaching Newsom’s desk. The measure, which cleared a Senate Judiciary Committee vote this week, is the latest attempt to eliminate the so-called pink tax, by which women pay more for substantially similar products, like razors and deodorant. Companies that violate this rule would be subject to fines up to $10,000.

Assembly Bill 1287 will be amended in the coming days to close a loophole that would have allowed a business to charge different prices for products if they were marketed under separate brands. — Alexander Nieves

Spending spree: Oversight scarce as billions in COVID aid poured into California schools,” by CalMatters’ Robert Lewis and Joe Hong: “In a two-part investigation, CalMatters took a deep dive into how California schools have spent a massive influx of federal coronavirus relief funding, and found that schools had wildly different approaches to stimulus spending — from laptops to shade structures to an ice cream truck. No centralized database exists to show the public exactly where the money went.

“Imagine your boss giving you a check equal to four months of your salary and telling you to spend it quickly or risk giving it back. For schools, this was money for things like laptops, air filters and mental health counselors –—money to help kids.”

News Analysis: Ten years later, California’s ‘top two’ primary isn’t always what it seems,” by the LA Times’ John Myers: “Whether the primary’s rules have made an improvement or impediment for voters has been debated, almost nonstop, for a decade. Some of the most alluring promises made 10 years ago — that pragmatic candidates would prevail over partisans, for example — have failed to materialize.”

“There was a laundry list of arguments that were made,” said Paul Mitchell, one of the state’s most prominent political data analysts. “But the record doesn’t line up with what the advocates promised.”

— “Court date for Nancy Pelosi’s husband is set,” by the Sacramento Bee’s Owen Tucker-Smith. 

— “Five Marines killed in military aircraft crash in California,” by CNN’s Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman.

— “Disney CEO fires top entertainment exec Peter Rice in major surprise,” by LAist’s Mike Roe.