'Expedited' budget request could help shorten California recall calendar

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget officials on Tuesday asked California counties to fast-track their recall cost estimates by June 1, a move that could help put the state in position to have a recall election sooner than the fall.

Newsom’s Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer said Tuesday that the request for “expedited” information was being made in response to counties asking the state for recall funding on May 4. He said Finance wants to provide an estimate to the state Legislature before it has to approve a budget by June 15.

“To support legislative consideration of these costs by the June 15th budget deadline, the Department of Finance is requesting estimated cost information from counties now on an expedited basis,” states the Finance letter to county officials.

But compiling that information now could obviate the need for a prolonged 30-day Department of Finance review that many had assumed was part of the 2021 recall election calendar. If Finance determines a cost estimate by June 15 — and if the Legislature approves money based on that projection — both entities may not need anywhere near the 60 days of financial review allotted in a 2017 law. The state does not require that Finance or the Legislature use the full review periods before the secretary of state’s office certifies the election.

State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) in recent days has laid out why he believes Newsom and the Democratic-led state Legislature should do everything they can to condense the election time frame. Recent polls have shown voters are in a more optimistic mood and are inclined to reject the recall election. Infection rates have plummeted in California and vaccines have become widely available in the past month, while businesses are reopening on a broader scale.

Glazer believes the state could hold the recall in late August, rather than in late October or early November, as many had speculated. His office believes Finance could reduce its 30-day window to review costs to one day in late June, while the Legislature could do the same. That could cut nearly two months out of the process.

“Right now, Gavin Newsom has control over vaccine distribution and the budget … he’s in good shape,” he told POLITICO last week. “So when you’re in a strong position to win the battle — then get in the battle.”

Palmer said Finance’s request for expedited information does not foretell how the department will use the 30-day window spelled out in law, and that the effort was driven by budgetary needs. He noted that the department may need additional information from counties and state agencies in future weeks.

It’s also not clear that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee would collapse its 30-day period. But the latest move lays early groundwork that could give state officials and Democratic legislative leaders the option.

Tom Del Beccaro, chair of RescueCalifornia.org, one of the two major recall groups, said that he believes Republicans will be more energized to vote in the recall — no matter when it’s held.

He cited a recent Los Angeles Times/Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll that showed twice as many Republicans with high interest in the recall compared to Democrats and independents. On voter turnout, he said, “that levels the playing field — and the registration playing field” that currently gives Democrats a 46-24 percent voter registration advantage.

Still, Del Beccaro allowed that an early recall would be a mixed bag. For Republicans, more time would allow better opportunities to educate voters on issues that may drive recall support — like the EDD scandal under Newsom’s watch, he said.

While Republicans are more interested in the recall, the voting hurdles are not as high as in a normal special election. Democratic lawmakers and Newsom enacted a law this year requiring counties to send every voter a mail ballot, citing Covid-19 safety concerns, as was the case in the November 2020 election.

County officials have estimated that it could cost $400 million to administer the recall election with pandemic restrictions.

Newsom on Monday tried to keep the recall date at arm’s length.

“That’s going to be determined by a series of actions the Legislature takes, the Department of Finance takes, the secretary of state’s [office] takes, and they’ll make that determination. Period, full stop,” Newsom said during a press conference on wildfire budget funding in the Sacramento region.

Glazer last week pointed to political pitfalls for Newsom the deeper the state gets into the fall. He noted that October and November are peak wildfire seasons; residents last fall spent many days stuck indoors due to smoke-filled skies. Rotating blackouts and heat-spurred outages remain a possibility. And this fire season is already on track to be worse than last year’s as the state endures another drought.

The Democratic senator, once an adviser to former Gov. Jerry Brown, also noted that Newsom could sidestep legislative fights by having the recall before the bill-signing period in September and October. And the state’s Covid-19 rates stand a better chance, potentially, of staying low through the summer, he suggested.

“They are smart to keep their options open,” Glazer said Tuesday of the Finance move.

But Del Beccaro said August is no cakewalk for Newsom. That’s when students return to school, and any delays or obstacles in reopening the next academic year could be front and center.

“I always thought it would be late August or early September — but their political calculus may be because of wildfires and drought, they’d be better to hurry it up,’’ Del Beccaro said.


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