Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Democratic ownership of Capitol has a price

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Democrats now control all the strings in the state Capitol.

They can, at least on paper, do anything they wish without giving Republicans anything more than cursory attention.

However, sole ownership also means sole responsibility. No more pointing the finger at recalcitrant Republicans. No more excuses for failing to balance the state budget – especially since voters also provided billions of dollars in new tax money. No more ducking education reform and myriad other issues that have festered year after year.

The new taxes should almost cover the annual imbalance between state budget's income and outgo, but they're not enough to restore the health, welfare and higher education funds that have been slashed in recent years – especially if much of it is spent, as Gov. Jerry Brown prefers, on reducing $30 billion-plus in budget deficit debt.

Whether to spend the money on debt reduction or program restoration looms as a major conflict, since influential Democratic constituencies prefer the latter.

Brown will place particular emphasis on an overhaul of school finance when he delivers his proposed 2013-14 budget and his State of the State speech this month. He wants to simplify the flow of money to local school districts, eliminating many of the single-purpose earmarks, giving local school officials more leeway and shifting more money to schools with large numbers of poor and educationally deficient students.

His initial "weighted formula" proposal went nowhere, due to skepticism by the powerful educational establishment, but Brown hopes that new money will provide enough lubrication to make it happen.

Two other pithy issues also will occupy the Legislature's dominant Democrats in the biennial session that begins in earnest this month – water and regulatory reform.

An $11.1 billion water bond that the Legislature and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved three years ago has been sidetracked, and Brown and lawmakers say they want to eliminate its pork and make it smaller.

The bonds' money would grease, although not pay for, an immense tunnel project to carry water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and opponents – particularly environmental groups – will use the bond issue as leverage.

Brown and Democratic leaders also say they want to respond to business complaints that regulation, especially the California Environmental Quality Act, is an impediment to economic recovery. But CEQA is an iconic touchstone for environmental groups.

Ironically, therefore, the dominant Democratic leadership in the Capitol may find itself at odds with its supposed allies on how to spend the new tax money, on water, on education, and on regulatory reform.

Sole ownership means sole accountability for results.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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