As the Newsom administration lays out its initial plans, PPIC invited chief of staff Ann O’Leary to discuss some of the governor’s top priorities. In a wide-ranging discussion with PPIC president Mark Baldassare last week, O’Leary identified the “cost crisis” in California as one of the main challenges that Governor Newsom plans to address.
“By ‘cost crisis,’ I mean how do we make sure that people in California can have affordability and the opportunity to really take advantage of the California dream?” O’Leary said. “I think too many people in California are really seeing that slip away. They’re not able to afford homes, they’re not able to afford child care, and they’re not able to pay for college for their children as they grow older.”
O’Leary pointed out that confronting this cost crisis would take many forms, such as taking on health care affordability, investing in “cradle to career” education, and addressing housing production and rising rents.
She underscored that the governor’s first proposed budget reflects his vision for promoting affordability and opportunity while ensuring the state’s long-term financial stability. Newsom’s plan includes a mix of one-time and ongoing funding as well as a robust rainy day fund, but “we also go further than that. We have a reserve fund for the safety net, and we also look at how we could use some of the surplus to pay down pension liabilities.”
The governor has also focused on other key challenges—for example, responding to wildfires and tackling the unmet need for safe drinking water in many parts of the state.
On wildfires, O’Leary noted that the governor wants to “make sure that we’re continuing with those recovery efforts to help communities that have been harmed, but also to prepare for future wildfires.” On drinking water, O’Leary said that the governor has already worked with the legislature to provide $20 million in emergency funding to address this issue.
Navigating the PG&E bankruptcy filing is another immediate priority. O’Leary said that over the next 60 days the governor’s team would be creating a roadmap for the state to “protect wildfire victims, protect employees who are out there every day trying to make sure we’re safe, and make sure fundamentally that we have safe and affordable power and that we’re meeting our clean-energy goals.”
O’Leary also discussed the federal-state relationship and how the governor plans to manage it. While pointing out that the state and federal governments need to work together as much as possible, O’Leary also underscored that California must stand up for its values when fundamental disagreements exist, especially on issues such as immigration and family planning. “These are differences of opinion. And it’s a needle we have to thread, but we’re going to do our best.”