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’
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.