By all indications, the 2014 legislative year won’t get off to a propitious start.
As lawmakers arrive for the new session, state Sen. Rod Wright will be on trial in Los Angeles, accused of breaking state law by falsely claiming to live in the district he represented.
State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, will arrive under federal criminal investigation for public corruption, perhaps including bribery. Stripped of committee assignments, Calderon will have little to do, other than await the outcome of the investigation.
It’s an election year, which is never conducive for getting much of substance done. But this one could be even tougher than most. Legislative leaders are termed out, leading to internal fights over succession.
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Outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg intends to leave public office, at least for a while. But outgoing Speaker John A. Pérez will face the temptation of using his final months as an incumbent to aid his statewide campaign for controller.
Lawmakers who normally would be allies will be running against one another, including Sacramento Democratic Assemblymen Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan. They’ll be tempted to try to trip up one another.
Gov. Jerry Brown will be running for re-election. Several legislators will be seeking statewide office.
They’ll be overly cautious, not wanting to make a misstep that would damage their chances in June and in November. They’ll also be spending inordinate amounts of time raising huge sums from moneyed interests seeking to influence their actions on policy matters.
Lawmakers likely won’t get much done, but they should.
They must address the drought and ongoing water shortages. They ought to tackle big issues, including an overhaul of the tax system.
The education system needs constant attention, as does California’s criminal justice sentencing system.
As California leads other states implementing the Affordable Care Act, thoughtful leaders should focus on ways to rein in the cost of health care.
Although no amount of legislating can change human nature, the investigations should make lawmakers open to changing campaign finance law for the better by limiting fundraising when legislators are in session.
Especially in an election year, the pressure will be great to overspend the budget in the hope of spreading cheer to political benefactors and select groups of voters. Brown and lawmakers need to resist and not waste whatever surplus the state has for short-term political gain.
There is much to do and not do in 2014. Perhaps politicians will rise to the occasion. Any legislator will tell you that good policy makes for good politics. Voters have a right to hope that line is more than a mere bromide.