Happy new year, lawmakers?
Don't bet on it.
The California Legislature will reconvene Wednesday amid a flood of red ink, a long history of partisan bickering, and a coming statewide election using newly drawn districts and a new way of choosing the top two candidates for legislative seats.
Key issues ranging from public employee pension changes to whether the state should regulate health-care insurance rates remain from last year, but political insecurity and fiscal instability are likely to make lawmakers reluctant to cast controversial votes, analysts say.
"I think they'll be more interested in filling up their campaign accounts than filling up the law books," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.
Political science professor Larry Gerston of San Jose State University agreed, saying, "It's hard to imagine there will be meaningful legislation (passed)."
Not true, say the two Democratic leaders Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento.
Past votes can be used against incumbents as easily as current votes can, so there is nothing particularly chilling about this election year, Steinberg said.
"What you've seen over the last year is an ability for the governor and the Legislature to come together and make very tough decisions and I think you're going to see more of the same," said Pérez.
For the first time ever, legislators will run this year in districts drawn by a 14-member citizens commission rather than by lawmakers. New maps have forced dozens of incumbents to move into neighboring districts or butt heads with colleagues in 2012 balloting.
Political prospects are made murkier by implementation of the state's new "top-two" system for primary elections. Voters can cast ballots for any candidate who's running, and the top two finishers regardless of party will square off in a general election.
Overshadowing everything at the Capitol, however, is the state's projected budget deficit of about $12 billion through June 2013.
With Republicans adamant against raising taxes, legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown want voters to decide on the November ballot whether to dig deeper into their pockets for education and state services.
Pérez and Steinberg say they're open to GOP budget ideas but are prepared to adopt a spending plan with only Democratic votes rather than spend months wooing Republicans.
"My view is you always have an open door and outstretched hand, but I don't think we do anything as our main strategy that requires a two-thirds vote," Steinberg said. "We're gone down that path far too many times."
Election-year gridlock could be a good thing in a state that needs fewer laws and more economic stability, Republicans say.
"If the fact that a re-election year keeps my friends across the aisle from doing more harm, then great," said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare.
Key money-related matters likely to split the Legislature include whether to delay or reduce the scope of an $11 billion water bond, which state parks should be closed to save money, and whether to appropriate funds for a high-speed rail system whose projected costs have more than doubled to almost $100 billion over 20 years.
Attempting to generate hundreds of millions annually without raising taxes, Steinberg said he hopes compromise can be reached on two bills to legalize Internet gambling. Lawmakers are wrestling over issues ranging from what games should be allowed to who should operate such gambling websites.
A state Supreme Court decision last week approving the state's elimination of California redevelopment agencies has sparked vows by some lawmakers including Sacramento Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson to craft legislation that would restore them or continue their function of using tax revenue to subsidize retail and low-rent housing projects.
Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, will resume his stalled Assembly Bill 52 to require state regulation of health-care insurance rates.
An effort to hike California's minimum wage from $8 to $8.50 per hour was shelved last year by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat who plans to revive the fight next year.
Attorney General Kamala Harris recently urged the Legislature to clarify state law regarding medicinal marijuana, ranging from cultivation limits to permissibility of edible marijuana products and the extent to which local government can regulate pot dispensaries.
Issues left unresolved from 2011 include whether to ban reusable plastic grocery bags, adopt stronger laws for homeowners threatened with foreclosure, and to regulate the wages and job conditions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers.
Another holdover is Senate Bill 9 to allow reconsideration of life-in-prison sentences after juveniles convicted of committing or assisting in murders had been incarcerated for 15 years.
Republicans said they will propose a hard cap on state spending, business tax breaks, and significant regulatory reform. Democrats have shelved similar proposals in years past.
New legislation is expected to include a proposal by Steinberg to create an online, open-source library for college students, and proposals by various lawmakers including Dickinson to impose new rules for coaches and nonprofits in response to reports of alleged sexual abuse by a former Penn State University coach.