Paradise lawmakers fight to keep Camp Fire relief funds within revised state budget

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PARADISE, Calif. (KTXL) – Paradise has come a long way since the Camp Fire nearly leveled the entire town in 2018.

In 2020, the town’s recovery could face a new challenge: California’s COVID-19 budget shortfall.

Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher represents California’s 3rd district, where Paradise is located.

“You see many people rebuilding their homes, you see businesses reopen, you see the bustle of construction activity. This town is very much alive,” Gallagher told FOX40 Wednesday.

Gallagher said that federal funds have been instrumental in getting the town’s water system clean and functional again.

“Pipes have been now replaced,” said Gallagher.

But the Paradise Irrigation District’s rate-paying base significantly shrunk 85% as the area went from having 27,000 people living there to only about 5,000 now.

Shortly after the fire burned through in 2018, the state agreed to help that district stay operational.

“So, the state’s commitment was to backfill that revenue for two years,” said Gallagher.

Those funds were paid in 2019 without any issues.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised May budget has cut the $7.4 million the Irrigation District was set to receive in 2020.

“This May revise really took us all by surprise,” explained Gallagher. “Really with no notice, there was only a letter from the Department of Finance to the budget chair. No calls to my office or to Senator Nielsen’s office.”

A spokesperson from the governor’s Department of Finance has said the money was needed back to close the gap in the state’s $54 billion budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 recession.

FOX40 reached out to that department to ask why the Paradise Irrigation District money was selected but so far, it has yet to respond.

Gallagher told FOX40 he will not vote to approve the May revised budget without those funds.

“It is a very small amount when you’re considering billions of dollars,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher is working with other lawmakers to ensure that money stays in the new budget.

“The legislature does have the ability to make changes and to help this community recover. That we need to follow up on that commitment,” said Gallagher.

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