How the $276 Million California Spent on Recall Election Compares to Other Key Parts of Budget


  • The failed attempt to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from his role cost California taxpayers $276 million.
  • We took a look at how that sum stacks up against key parts of the state’s budget.
  • We examined how much the state has allocated to helping its homeless population and funding programs that fight climate change and COVID-19.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will remain in office following a costly recall election that cost taxpayers $276 million, according to the state’s Department of Finance.

To put that sum into context, we took a look at how much California is spending on some of its key issues this year, from homelessness and battling wildfires to combating COVID-19. Figures on California’s spending have been sourced from the state’s 2020-2021 budget.

Funding housing for the homeless

A man walks past tents housing the homeless on the streets in the Skid Row community of Los Angeles, California.


Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images



Homelessness was cited as a key issue in this year’s recall election, with Newsom’s GOP rivals like Larry Elder and Caitlyn Jenner each offering controversial ideas on how they would tackle the issue. An estimated 60,000 people are currently living on the streets of Los Angeles. On the state level, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that in January 2020, California recorded an estimated total of more than 161,548 homeless individuals.

Per California’s 2020-2021 budget, $550 million was allocated to the Department of Housing and Community Development for Project Homekey, a sum intended to provide housing for homeless individuals and families. The $276 million spent on the recall election could have funded more than half of this amount.

The average cost of building a single unit of housing for the homeless in Los Angeles rose to $531,000 in 2020, according to an audit from City Controller Ron Galperin. Based on this metric, with $276 million, the state could have financed more than 500 units of housing with the cost of the recall election.

Fighting climate change 

California drought

California has suffered a spate of extreme weather events this year, from devastating wildfires to drought. State funds are now being funneled into programs to combat climate change.

Associated Press


California has seen a series of extreme weather events this year, with wildfires decimating towns and a severe drought leaving its lakes bone-dry

The state’s 2020-2021 budget allocated $50 million to a general fund to mitigate the effects of power shutdowns, in a bid to reduce the risk of wildfires sparked by utility-owned equipment. The AP reported that the state approved a $1.5 billion budget to prevent wildfires — nearly a fifth of which could have been funded by the recall election’s cost.

Additionally, $276 million could have gone a long way to funding programs to battle smog and climate change. According to a report from local news site CalMatters, key environmental programs saw funding cuts of nearly $105 million in July 2020. These funding cuts hit programs that promoted green vehicles and tackled methane excretions from cows. 

Fighting COVID-19 

Los Angeles Coronavirus

A Covid-19 warning sign in Los Angeles, California.

Aydin Palabiyikoglu/Getty Images


A large part of the state’s 2020-2021 budget focused on measures that could mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s 2020-2021 budget shows $716 million was set aside for COVID‑19 contingencies. Another $3.5 billion was allocated for direct COVID-19 related expenditures. This sum is being earmarked for spending on personal protective equipment, expanding the surge capacity at hospitals and medical facilities, providing hotels for healthcare workers who need to quarantine after coming into contact with COVID-19 patients, and improving statewide contact tracing.

The $276 million from the recall election could have paid for more than a third of the state’s COVID-19 contingency fund, or funded slightly over a tenth of its state-wide COVID-19 related expenditures. 

As of September 15, California has confirmed 4,616,854 COVID-19 cases and 67,647 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. In the week ending Thursday, the state reported a daily average of 10,189 COVID-19 cases, per The New York Times’ COVID-19 case tracker.



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