The calendar says summer doesn’t officially commence until Sunday, but rest assured that California state government is well into its silly season.
How else to explain the Legislature passing a budget on Monday when, less than 24 hours later, it had a deal in place with Gov. Jerry Brown – other than that the lawmakers wanted to protect their paychecks by acting before the June 15 constitutional deadline.
And how to rationalize a pair of Democratic lawmakers introducing a constitutional amendment to Proposition 13 that they know is dead on arrival with their Republican colleagues. Let’s chalk that up to spend-happy members keeping their union masters happy.
Even Brown, ordinarily the soberest of judges, has gone native. First there was this odd gubernatorial stream of consciousness: “Some people call water a right, some people call water the essence of life. Water is more than H2O. Water is baptism. Water is a poetry. Water has an iconic role in human history and the human condition, so how we play with water – it’s not like a widget.”
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As “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart noted: “Jerry Brown hasn’t aged at all. He’s still good old Gov. Moonbeam, puttin’ the water scarcity in terms that anyone on ’shrooms can understand.”
And there was this curious aside, after a meeting with mayors in San Jose, where Brown said: “I didn’t take a shower this morning. We’ve installed a low-flow system, and we’re using it quite carefully and quite sparingly.”
Brown added that he’s also reducing his personal water consumption – a path to dehydration that his frenemy and successor-in-waiting Gavin Newsom probably applauds.
Eons ago, when I worked in the Capitol, late June was marked by tension, theatrics and pre-Fourth of July fireworks in the form of members’ dudgeons real and camera-feigned. Such was the nature of divided government in California pre-Proposition 25, when state budgets required cross-party, supermajority approval.
Today’s Sacramento is different: Differences are lower-decibel; calmer minds know that, despite the Legislature’s dog-and-pony show, we’ll likely have a budget signed by Brown by month’s end (remember: It’s far easier to divide a pile of money than make do with less).
But what happens after the budget is put to bed? Does the silly season extend for the remainder of the summer, well into the height of the bill-signing period?
Meanwhile, is it possible for the governor and legislators to engage in a productive dialogue on matters that aren’t so silly: the drought, the state’s bipolar revenue system and California’s growing pains – affordable housing, congested roads.
Here’s wishing two things, the first being that Brown goes back to downing 8 ounces of water, eight times a day. We don’t want to lose him before 2018. Part of me is convinced Brown will find a loophole in Proposition 140 and run for a fifth term.
Besides, the governor needs his full wits about him if he’s to prevent his party from going on another crippling spending jag over the next two years. It’s a cynical way of interpreting the legislative push to fiddle with Proposition 13: The alteration isn’t so much about making corporations pay their fair share of taxes as it is feeding the state revenue beast.
The other wish: Rather than eschewing showers, let’s turn personal hygiene into a teachable moment. If he’s worried about wasting bath water, Brown could lead the Legislature down to the banks of the Sacramento River where, in addition to dispensing soap and towels, he might baptize a few lawmakers as members of Jerry church – Our Lady of Fiscal Restraint.
Or is wishing for a better way of government the silliest of all silly-season notions?
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.