Democratic leaders in the California Legislature announced Thursday the state would cover the estimated $215 million cost to stage an expected recall election that could oust Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, potentially allowing the contest to be held at an earlier date this year.
The announcement came shortly after state analysts released the cost projection, based on figures submitted by the state’s 58 counties that conduct elections.
“This funding will allow for an earlier recall election,” Senate leader Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a joint statement, adding that the Legislature also would waive a 30-day review of those costs.
No election date has been set at this point, and it wasn’t immediately clear how the leaders’ announcement might influence that decision, which is part of a lengthy process managed by the Secretary of State.
The election was widely expected to be held sometime in the fall, based on required financial reviews before the state authorizes the recall and sets the date.
For example, the Finance Department has 30 days to review the cost estimate for the election. The agency issued the preliminary $215 million estimate Thursday, but its analysts have not started its formal review. It wasn’t clear how long that might take.
With the moves in the Legislature, it appears Democrats are eager to get the recall on the ballot as quickly as possible, with recent polling showing the embattled governor would survive the recall attempt after his popularity tumbled during the worst of the pandemic.
John Burke, a spokesman for Republican candidate and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said in a statement that “Gavin Newsom’s allies can schedule this election any time they like. Mayor Faulconer is ready and will win regardless.”
The preliminary cost projection came about a month after a coalition of county officials urged the Legislature to provide funding to cover those bills, warning that they otherwise would strain local budgets already stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic.
Without state financial help, those costs “fall squarely on the shoulders of counties, creating a severe financial burden,” the counties warned.
The preliminary figures were provided by counties that estimated what it would cost for everything from printing and mailing ballots to providing face masks and gloves for election workers.
Legislative leaders and the governor’s office continue to negotiate a deal on the new budget, which must be in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The Newsom administration will support the funding for the counties, based on their request, said H.D. Palmer, a Finance Department spokesman.
Projected election costs varied widely, from $49 million in Los Angeles County, home to about 10 million people, to about $36,000 in sparsely populated Modoc County, in the state’s rural northeast corner.
In Los Angeles, its projection to stage the recall was roughly half of the $96 million the county spent to run the November presidential election.
State officials earlier announced a preliminary tally that found recall organizers had gathered more than enough petition signatures to qualify the recall for the ballot.
Democrats supporting Newsom have called the election a waste of taxpayer money, noting that he will stand for re-election in 2022 if he beats back a recall attempt in the fall.
Republicans who deride Newsom as a failure see the election costs as money well-spent in their effort to drive him from office.
The recall took root last year, driven largely by public dismay with Newsom’s long-running virus restrictions that shuttered schools and businesses.
The list of Republican challengers who have signaled an intention to enter the race continues to grow, though no consensus front-runner has emerged. State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley this week became the latest to announce he is considering stepping in.
Other Republicans in the race include businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018, reality TV personality and 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner, and former congressman Doug Ose.