Tanned, rested and presumably ready, state legislators returned to Sacramento last week after a vacation recess with a meaty agenda for the last month of their biennial session.
Just days later, however, it’s looking like a big bust.
One by one, the big issues that were supposed to come to fruition during the final month, including several Jerry Brown priorities, have either fallen by the wayside or shown symptoms of terminal torpor.
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While the precise reasons may vary, lack of cohesion among the Legislature’s Democrats, belying their numerical dominance, the need for two-thirds votes on some matters, and perhaps the ever-shortening time remaining in Brown’s second governorship, contribute to the systemic inertia.
The highest profile casualty appears to be reauthorization of the state’s drive to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases, particularly the cap-and-trade system of selling emission allowances, beyond 2020.
The last auction of state-owned allowances in May was a disaster, generating a tiny fraction of the projected $600 million, thanks to a glut of allowances in the secondary market stemming from legal and political uncertainty over whether cap and trade can be extended beyond 2020.
Another auction will be held on Aug. 16 and looks to be a repeat, short-circuiting plans to spend billions of dollars on Brown’s bullet train and many other projects.
The Air Resources Board has floated a plan to extend cap and trade by regulation beyond 2020, hoping to shore up the market, and Brown has suggested he might take the issue to the ballot in 2018 as his political swan song. However, he really needs reauthorization by a two-thirds vote bill to insulate the program from legal challenge. But in a faction-riven Legislature, it’s impossible to get.
Brown’s hopes for a deal on raising taxes and other revenue for highway maintenance appear stuck in neutral, because it, too, needs a two-thirds vote.
Meanwhile, Brown’s proposal to fast-track housing construction is in the same status, opposed by labor unions and environmental groups that don’t like modifying the California Environmental Quality Act, albeit for much different reasons.
They publicly dropped out of private negotiations on the housing plan this week, making it impossible to gain legislative approval even though the state has a severe and worsening housing supply crisis that’s driving housing costs sky-high and is now viewed as a major impediment to business investment in new jobs.
This week, Brown also pulled the plug on creating a Western states region electrical grid when it became clear the Legislature isn’t ready to approve it. Critics are leery of having California partner with PacifiCorp, a private utility owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company that serves several Western states, because of the utility’s heavy reliance on coal-powered generation.
Finally, one might say, the ambitious measures to legalize and regulate internet poker games and fantasy sports wagering face long odds, given the powerful forces battling over their control.