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Fiona Ma was in the house!
The first woman of color to be elected California state treasurer was in the Humboldt County Supervisors chamber this morning, and after a technology-related delay to the scheduled 8:30 start time she presented information about a variety of state money matters and their relevance to our region.
As state treasurer, Ma oversees annual revenues of $3.2 trillion while managing a short-term fiscal portfolio of about $200 million. Big dollars.
Off the bat, Ma highlighted a new state initiative called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings Program (CalKIDS). She explained that registered infants born in California after July 1, 2022, will get $100 deposited into a savings account.
“And that money is intended to grow until they’re 18, ready to go to higher ed or a certified apprenticeship program,” she explained. “In addition, for every first- through 12th-grader on free and reduced lunch, they are eligible to get $500 in their own name. If they are homeless, they’ll get another $500, and if they are a foster youth, they’ll get another $500. So this is potentially $1,500 for any first- to 12th-grader.”
Ma said she has been making the rounds across the state to inform parents, guardians, local leaders and educators about the program.
In other government finance news, Ma said the feds recently kicked down $1 billion to help California expand its loan loss guarantee and loan loss reserve programs, which should free up extra lender money by financing state-backed loan guarantees.
Ma noted that Humboldt County could probably use the help.
“Last time I was here it was 2015 and I was in Garberville and I was here in Eureka and it was thriving with so many small craft independent legacy farmers,” she said. At the time she’d just been elected to the
San Francisco Board of Supervisors State Board of Equalization and was trying to understand the cannabis industry.
“And back then you couldn’t find available property,” she said. “People were busier than ever before.” Now, the industry has been hit with an array of difficulties, from permitting headaches to PG&E supply issues to economic woes.
“Back in 2015 you had 3,500 farms, and today it’s 1,100 farms that are all just struggling to make ends meet,” she said. (This is not an apples-to-apples comparison since the former figure was prior to the passage of Prop. 64, legalizing recreational weed, while the latter reflects permitted cultivators.)
Ma noted that she worked on a bill two years ago that would decrease the state distribution tax, waive the cultivation tax and make retailers responsible for collecting sales taxes, moves that she admitted are maybe too little, too late.
“I think we need to do more, especially for your constituents here … ,” she said. “It’s very hard for many of your small farmers to compete with some of the larger ones around the state, and so I’m hoping that we will be able to get some equity for your communities so that they can continue to rebuild.”
Turning to affordable housing, Ma said that as chair of the Tax Credit Allocation Committee she has directed bonds and tax credits toward building affordable housing for people in the very-low- and extremely-low-income brackets, but with interest rates climbing the committee is shifting its focus from construction of new housing to building rehabilitation.
She also mentioned that the state is bringing back industrial development bonds for small manufacturers and that a new state bill could allocate more money for student housing at California State University campuses such as Cal Poly Humboldt.
“So I guess my message here is as a treasurer now, I’m giving away money,” Ma said, eliciting some laughter from the chamber. She said she plans to meet with some key agency leaders locally to learn what our region’s priority projects are.
However, she also noted that the state projects a budget deficit this year, and she warned that things will probably continue to be “a little bumpy” for the next year or two.
“But in the meantime,” she said, “I know you’re all very entrepreneurial-spirited. You’re trying to pivot the best you can. And I want to be there, to be your advocate and your partner as you are seeking to rebuild and regrow here in Humboldt County.”
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn thanked Ma and encouraged her to help small counties like Humboldt to seek and secure some of the available grant funds and tax credits.
Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo asked Ma to share details about a CalKIDS informational town hall meeting scheduled for this evening at the Humboldt County Office of Education. Ma kindly obliged. The event, which you can read more about here, will run from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka.
She reiterated that the state is trying to get parents and guardians to register for the free money.
“This is a not a scam,” Ma said. “This is actually a program supported by the legislature and the governor to give money to these young people in hopes that they, you know, will seek higher education or other opportunities [and] have the necessary funding to do so when they’re ready.”
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson brought up the offshore wind developments being pursued off our coastline, noting that such a major shift in the country’s electricity-generation infrastructure typically come with large state and federal investments, whereas Humboldt County has been put in the position of seeking that out for itself.
“I can definitely be a bridge to that,” Ma said, adding that energy diversity is a must for the state’s future.
Board Chair and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone advocated for financial assistance for foster youth as well as trade programs for young people who aren’t necessarily college-bound. He also thanked Ma for coming to the special meeting.