SACRAMENTO (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom took an extra $1.8 billion from the state’s dwindling coffers to pay for more protective gear and extra hospital beds to aid the state’s response to the coronavirus.
Newsom said Thursday he expects the federal government will reimburse the state for 75% of that spending, which comes as state lawmakers are debating what government services will be cut to cover an estimated $54.3 billion budget deficit caused by the virus-induced economic downturn.
The Newsom administration says it has authority to spend the money because he has declared an emergency under the state’s Emergency Services Act.
The new spending will bring the state’s total to $5.7 billion since March, when Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the disease.
In a letter to state lawmakers, Department of Finance Director Keely Martin Bosler said most of the new spending — $1.3 billion — will pay for personal protective equipment including masks, gloves and gowns.
More than $445 million of that amount will go to Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD, which last month secured a $1 billion contract with the state to deliver 200 million masks a month.
But BYD has had trouble fulfilling that contract. Earlier this month, it refunded the state $247 million after it missed a deadline to certify that the masks it delivered comply with federal standards.
The rest of the new state spending will pay for a call center and the state’s efforts to test people for the virus and track down people who have been exposed to it. It will also buy an extra 3,000 hospital beds and pay for hotel rooms for healthcare workers who treat COVID-19 patients.
The governor has asked lawmakers for an additional $2.9 billion in the upcoming budget for him to spend as he sees fit on coronavirus-related expenses. He says he needs the money in case an anticipated “second wave” of virus cases hit the state this fall when the Legislature is not in session.
State lawmakers have balked at Newsom’s proposal, saying they don’t want to give up their authority to approve state spending. Assembly Budget chair Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco, is scheduled to hold a public hearing Friday on Newsom’s request.
“Now that we’ve entered this period of the pandemic, how is this different than obesity or traffic fatalities,” Ting said. “We don’t”have a state of emergency for traffic fatalities.”
Other Republican lawmakers have questioned the governor’s continued use of his emergency powers.
“It’s time to end the state of emergency and strip the governor of the power he promised not to abuse,” Republican Sen. Melissa Melendez posted to her Twitter account Thursday.
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