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California lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are requesting details from Gov. Gavin Newsom regarding a $1 billion deal to buy hundreds of millions of coronavirus protective masks from a Chinese manufacturer, according to a report.
Two weeks after announcing the plan on cable news, Newsom has given few details about the deal, which will cost taxpayers 30 percent more than the governor’s January budget allotted for infectious diseases for the whole fiscal year, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The governor is planning to buy 200 million masks per month from an American subsidiary of Chinese electric car company BYD, which are set to start arriving in early May.
The company said it would make 5 million masks a day, according to the Times, much more than American company 3M, which makes around 100 million a month.
BYD’s U.S. subsidiary is based in Los Angeles.
“What is in the contract that ensures the deliverability — timely — is going to be really, really important,” Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen said, according to The Times. “At the least, we cannot be just throwing out a false hope to people.”
The governor’s office has denied requests for more information about the deal, The Times reported and the state has already sent the first installment of $495 million to BYD.
Newsom was defensive Saturday when asked by a reporter about the lack of forthcoming details on the contract.
“I’m for outcome here,” he said, according to The Times. “Some are consumed by process, personality, intrigue. Who’s up, who’s down. We are for actually solving a major, major problem — not only for the state but potentially a template for the country.”
A spokesperson for BYD has referred all questions to Newsom’s office.
Newsom has said California is leveraging the state’s purchasing power to buy the masks that would be distributed to health care workers through the summer.
“We made a big, bold bet on a new strategy, and it is bearing fruit,” Newsom said on April 8.
Democratic state Sen. Holly Mitchell, chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, said Newsom needs to be more transparent.
“Under normal circumstances, the Legislature would have had more time to deliberate an expenditure of this magnitude and would have been allowed to thoroughly vet the details of the contract before proceeding,” Mitchell wrote in a letter to Newsom’s finance director.
Lawmakers have yet to see a copy of the contract that Newsom’s office signed with BYD.
“It would be great to get a heads-up directly from the governor’s office rather than watching it on national TV,” Democratic Assembly Budget Committee Phil Ting said in an interview Wednesday with the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We don’t have any information as to how many masks we’re buying, who we’re buying them from, at what price," Ting added. "What are we obligated? For how long are we obligated?”
Neither the Associated Press or The Times have seen a copy of the contract.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.