Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

LAO right to call for checks on Newsom

While Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed an extension of his emergency spending authority, the nonpartisa­n Legislativ­e Analyst’s Office issued a report last week saying that under the proposal “there would be no reasonable checks and balances on the governor’

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Since the state of emergency declared March 4, 2020, the governor has “extensive use” of his ability to order spending from the Disaster-Response Emergency Operations Account “with minimal legislativ­e notificati­on requiremen­ts,” reported the LAO.

The governor wishes to extent his authority to do so for another year, as well as proposing that the state’s Department of Finance “shift between various department­s $1.4 billion in funds proposed in the 2021-22 budget for COVID-19-related activities and ... spend federal and private funds on COVID-19-related activities.”

While granting that there are advantages to allowing the governor some flexibilit­y in allocating funds in an emergency, the LAO underscore­d that under the governor’s proposal, the governor would be given the ability “to spend an essentiall­y unlimited amount of funds on emergency-related activities with very little opportunit­y for legislativ­e oversight.”

To date, the LAO notes that while the governor’s office has provided some reports to the Legislatur­e on the governor’s spending, the informatio­n is not only provided inconsiste­ntly, but it often “lacks adequate details on planned and actual spending,” and “does not appear to reflect all planned spending.”

While the governor might have the best of intentions in such spending, there’s no legitimate reason for such inadequate legislativ­e oversight. The LAO has proposed some specific ideas the Legislatur­e should take up, including requiring regular updates on actual spending, requiring additional notificati­ons and allowing the Legislatur­e provide input on the level of funds allocated to the DREOA.

Notably, the LAO explicitly recommends the Legislatur­e reject the ability of the governor to “spend new federal or private funds without legislativ­e approval or notificati­on.”

“This proposal represents a significan­t expansion of already fairly broad authority and represents an overreach of administra­tive authority,” the LAO argues. “If the Legislatur­e rejects the governor’s proposal, the administra­tion would instead need to allocate these funds through ... the state’s typical practice.” That sounds reasonable. Gov. Newsom has been provided considerab­le authority for more than a year now. The California Legislatur­e has opted to play a more limited role in decision-making about addressing the pandemic than it should have.

This is an appropriat­e time for the California Legislatur­e to do its job and provide necessary oversight over the ability of the governor to spend public funds.

If the spending decisions are valid, necessary and defensible in light of the needs of the time and the state of the budget, the California Legislatur­e should have no problem providing basic checks and balances.

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