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Newsom’s restaurant meal plan would drain city coffers
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

I spent $61.69 at Food-4-Less on Saturday.

That – along with about $20 worth of items I bought in bulk previously – will keep me fed for a week.

Much of what I buy is not prepared per se but is considered by most standards to be healthy. If Gov. Gavin Newsom doubts this, I will sign releases to let him see all the medical data that has been collected on me during the past year from physicals and blood tests to data the Red Cross compiles every two weeks when I donate platelets. I am also just a little over 11 months away from turning 65.

Why this matters is because of Newsom’s latest initiative to burn through tax dollars. After all, one shouldn’t let a pandemic go to waste.

Newsom unveiled an even more dubious emergency spending measure on April 24 that makes his $1 billion mask deal seem like the most vetted, transparent and well-thought out government expenditure of the last 200 years.

His plan, in short, is to feed every Californian 65 years of age and older who lives alone or with one other eligible adult or else anyone who is high-risk due to being infected with COVID-19, has an underlying health condition, is not benefiting from any other federal nutrition program to receive three restaurant prepared meals for free seven days a week as the virus crisis persists.

To qualify an individual can’t make more than $74,940 a year or $101,460 for two people. If anyone cares in a time when the governor wires a Chinese company $495 million for a down payment on a billion-dollar mask deal while failing to share details — and continuing to do so — with the California Legislature that is 600 percent above the poverty level.

We are told the $1 billion mask buy it is a great deal but if there were more transparency it would jeopardize it. Given the details he provided on the “Plunder the California Treasury to Prop up Restaurants Being Obliterated by Executive Decree in Sacramento Act of 2020” I’m not too sure very many taxpayers can be told the details without overwhelming our medical system with people suffering major coronaries.

Newsom volunteered no estimate of the restaurant program’s cost. He did indicate that he thought millions of California seniors could qualify.  Based on quick math by Associated Press, if 2 million Californians signed up that translates into almost $4 billion a month.

We know the “virus crisis” isn’t going to go away when the economy is reopened.

That means this could go on well into 2021. It is quite plausible after it gets up and running there could be six months in which Newsom’s plan feeds 2 million people a month, translating into $24 billion. That is the equivalent of 16 percent of the state’s $153 billion in general fund expenditures for the current fiscal year.

Keep in mind there are 5.7 million Californians over 65. That also doesn’t include those who are infected who aren’t seniors or those with underlying conditions that put them at risk.

The reimbursement of restaurants at $66 a day includes $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch, $27 for dinner, and $5 for incident expenses. I have no idea where Newsom dines out at but at those prices it definitely isn’t Denny’s.

Of course, it is the ultimate funny money for Newsom because restaurants will be reimbursed 75 percent of the cost from pass through federal money. The remaining 25 percent will be borne by local jurisdictions such as Ceres, Turlock and Modesto.

Newsom said the state would then pick up three-quarters of the local cost. As a result, he is selling it as a big boom for cities that have been slammed with a drop off in sales tax triggered by his stay-at-home orders.

Sounds like a good deal? Not if you do the math.

The sales tax in Ceres is 8.375% percent. A half percent is Measure D to support public safety. Of the remaining 8.125 percent, 76.19 percent goes to the state of California, 3.8 percent goes to Stanislaus County, 6.34 percent goes to Measure L – Stanislaus County Transportation Tax, 1.58 percent goes to Stanislaus County Library Tax, which leaves 12.06 percent for the city of Ceres’ General Fund.

The local share for $66 in daily meals per senior is $16.50. The state sales tax collected on $66 that Sacramento keeps is $3.96. The 0.94 percent for a city like Ceres is 62 cents. The state would backfill $12.38 of the local share of each meal. That means the state is going to lose $8.42 per day on every person in the program from the $3.96 they collect in sales tax. It’s not much better for cities. The quarter of the local share the state won’t cover comes to $4.13. Cities will be left having to come up with $3.51 per day per person to cover the cost of the program after they receive their 62-cent cut of local sales tax and the state kicks in the promised backfill of three quarters of the local share.

That translates into $24.54 a week a city like Ceres would have to cough up for each person in the program. If there were 400 people in Ceres receiving three restaurant prepared meals a day that would come to $9,814 a week or $235,536 over the course of 24 weeks.

Newsom lauds this as being a boon for generating sales tax for cash-strapped cities. It’s more like chug-a-lugging a gallon of Round-Up concentrate every day. If Newsom’s pandemic measures don’t kill off local government his strategies to help them weather his cure will.

Of course, his meal guidelines will probably mean many restaurants won’t qualify such as traditional Mexican restaurants.

But no worries there as he’ll leave it up to cities to determine which restaurants benefit as long as they meet nutritional guidelines that would make Michael Bloomberg beam.

Keep in mind that Newsom touts this as good news and worthy of transparency.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.