California’s state budget is a mess.
Governor Gavin Newsom enjoyed historic budget surpluses throughout his first term in office, thanks to a booming stock market and unprecedented levels of pandemic-related federal funding. But the market went south and the financial bonanza completely disappeared, leaving the state with a budget deficit of more than $30 billion.
Newsom has already proposed spending reductions in education, transportation and climate change programs, and almost every other area of state government is braced for cuts as well. But somehow, in the middle of this budgetary mayhem, the governor was able to find additional money to fight hate. Newsom’s newly revised budget allocates $10 million to continue California’s Nonprofit Security Grant program, which provides funding support for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk for violent attacks and hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs, or mission.
For the state’s Jewish community, which has faced an alarming number of antisemitic acts in recent years, this security grant funding has provided critical financial support for synagogues, Jewish day schools and other community organizations. But just a few weeks ago, it appeared that the funding would not be included in Newsom’s new budget.
The Jewish Legislative Caucus, led by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, met with Newsom and strongly urged him to continue his past support for the safety program.
When the money did show last week, it was not an accident. What happened was a testament to the commitment, the determination, and the tireless work of the California Jewish community and its leaders, who recognized the threat that the lack of security funding would pose and who escalated their already considerable efforts to convince the governor and his advisors to find the money even in an exceedingly difficult budget year. As the governor’s revised proposal was being finalized, the Jewish Legislative Caucus, led by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), met with Newsom and strongly urged him to continue his past support for the safety program. And just two days before Newsom’s revised budget was due to be released, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee (JPAC) mobilized more than 300 of their members from across the state to descend on Sacramento to lobby for the nonprofit grants.
The result was an unadulterated success. Only months after Newsom had already designated $50 million for the program, the governor’s revised budget included this additional $10 million in badly needed funding. The money will be used for grants for security training, construction, renovation and other infrastructure upgrades for at-risk institutions. It will also coordinate emergency preparedness activities between public and private institutions as well as state and local government agencies and will integrate the preparedness activities of nonprofit organizations with broader state and local anti-hate efforts. Simply put, at a time when the state’s Jewish community is especially vulnerable to assault, vandalism and harassment, these funds will provide California’s Jews with an enhanced level of safety.
Last year, Gabriel sponsored the legislation that dramatically expanded this safety grant and made it a permanent line item in the state budget, but he has led efforts on this front as a community activist even before his election to the Assembly in 2018. In the interest of full disclosure, Gabriel is one of my two former students who currently serves in the California legislature, so I don’t pretend to be even slightly objective on this matter. In fact, I am incredibly proud of him. You should be too. He deserves tremendous credit for the work he has done for all of us.
There is no shortage of other leaders who also deserve our gratitude for their efforts. State Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica), Gabriel’s predecessor as Jewish Caucus Chair, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the caucus’ co-chair, and the caucus’ 15 other members, have devoted tremendous amounts of time and energy to this project. Veteran lobbyist Cliff Berg, who steers JPAC’s legislative agenda in the state capitol, and David Bocarsly, the organization’s new executive director, who has marshalled the organization’s advocacy work on this and other issues, have been invaluable as well, as have lay leaders such as Alison Gingold and Marty Schenker.
California’s Jews and other at-risk communities are less vulnerable today because of these individuals and others like them. We owe them our profound thanks.
Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. Join Dan for his weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” (www.lawac.org) on Tuesdays at 5 PM.