As California sees a worrisome rise in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened Wednesday to withhold up to $2.5 billion in the upcoming state budget from local governments that fail to comply with state mandates on wearing masks, testing and other measures meant to slow the spread of the virus.
“There are some that have made rhetorical comments about not giving a damn,” Newsom said in some of his most strident comments to date. “That’s exactly why I look forward to signing this budget that will afford me a little bit of leverage in that conversation.”
The money is intended to help local governments pay for services needed because of the pandemic. But it is contingent upon counties following emergency orders to enforce the safety measures as they gradually reopen the economy.
Newsom's warning came as the state recorded a 69% increase in new cases this week, and set several daily records for new cases. Officials reported corresponding increases in the rate of people testing positive and hospitalizations.
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Still, Newsom said the state is prepared to handle the trends.
The Democratic governor said he views the $2.5 billion fund in the budget that lawmakers are expected to approve this week as a reward, not a punishment for local government. He implored individuals to practice safety measures — at one point even demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques.
“This is not a closed fist, this is an open hand,” he said of the money.
”When people simply thumb their nose and do not come with a collaborative spirit ... then by all means the state of California has a responsibility, an obligation — legally and otherwise — to enforce those laws and to utilize the tools that are afforded us," he said.
Newsom said he plans to hand out the money monthly, based on counties' compliance. The bulk of the funding is expected to come from the federal government.
However, the budget bill before lawmakers leaves it up to local governments to certify to the state that they are complying.
It includes $550 million for local governments to house people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Another $500 million is earmarked for cities and $1.3 billion for counties to be used toward homelessness, public health, public safety, and other services related to the pandemic.
Organizations representing cities and counties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Associated Press writers Adam Beam and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this story.