SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's governor vowed on Monday to continue expanding taxpayer funded health benefits to adults living in the country illegally next year, ensuring the volatile issue will get top billing in the 2020 presidential election as Democrats vying for the nomination woo voters in the country's most populous state.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $214.8 billion operating budget last week that includes spending to make low-income adults 25 and younger living in the country illegally eligible for the state's Medicaid program. California is the first state to do this, with an expected cost of $98 million to cover about 90,000 people
Democrats in the state legislature had pushed to also cover adults 65 and older living in the country illegally, as well as all adults regardless of age. But Newsom rejected those proposals because they were too expensive — about $3.4 billion for all adults living in the country illegally in California.
But Monday, Newsom told a crowd of supporters at Sacramento City College "we're going to get the rest of that done."
"Mark my words," Newsom said. "We're going to make progress next year and the year after on that. That's what universal health care means. Everybody, not just some folks."
If Newsom follows through, it will ensure California's legislature will be debating the issue at about the same time California voters are voting for a Democratic presidential nominee. The state has an outsized role in the selection process this year because its primary is scheduled for March 3.
Republicans seemed to welcome the debate. Speaking to reporters on Monday, President Donald Trump said California doesn't "treat their people as well as they treat illegal immigrants."
"At what point does it stop? It's crazy what they are doing," he said. "And it's mean. And it's very unfair to our citizens, and we're going to stop it. But we may need an election to stop it, and we may need to get back the House."
Newsom's comments highlight how quickly Democrats have embraced using tax dollars to provide services for people living in the country illegally. Former Democratic President Barack Obama's health care law dramatically expanded Medicaid coverage in 2014, but only for people living in the country legally.
Last week, all 10 Democratic presidential candidates during the second night of a televised debate raised their hands when asked if they supported expanding Medicaid to cover people living in the country illegally. They included front-runners like former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
"I think the anti-immigrant stance by the Trump administration has in some sense created this as the bigger issue," said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. "The Trump administration has pushed Democrats even further to defend immigration and provide services to people who are already here."
California's $214.8 billion operating budget, which took effect Monday, also brings back an Obama-era tax on people who refuse to purchase private health insurance. State officials will use the money from the tax to help middle income families — including families of four who earn as much as $150,000 a year — pay their monthly health insurance premiums.
"To Donald Trump: eat your heart out," Newsom said.