Capitol Alert

Lawmakers’ side ‘arrangements’ didn’t start with California gas-tax bill

Last week’s approval of major road-funding legislation wasn’t the first time that other “arrangements,” in the words of Gov. Jerry Brown, helped seal the deal.

Side pacts between governors, legislative leaders and select lawmakers, sometimes unspoken, played key roles in annual budget negotiations before voters in 2010 eliminated the two-thirds requirement to pass budgets.

In the early 2000s, for instance, then-Gov. Gray Davis and majority Democrats worked to secure the votes from a handful of needed Republicans with a mix of money for district projects, policy changes and other inducements.

The 2001 package included tens of millions of dollars in farm and rural tax breaks, such as a sales-tax exemption for tractors, that helped win support from Central Valley lawmakers.

Another lawmaker who came aboard the budget train that year was Assemblyman Anthony Pescetti, R-Rancho Cordova, who received millions of dollars in earmarks for local police departments, community centers and other projects in his sprawling district. (Bee political cartoonist Rex Babin depicted Pescetti dressed as a prostitute and then-Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg as a john trying to pick him up.)

The following year, Sen. Maurice Johannessen decided to back that year’s budget bill, prompting his angry GOP colleagues to kick him out of caucus meetings. Meanwhile, Democrats fast-tracked another measure to build a veterans home in Johannessen’s Redding district.

In February 2009, with the state on the brink of running out of money, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders negotiated a package of deep spending cuts and temporary tax increases. A slate of side measures, though, helped grease the skids for the deeply unpopular package, including a bill by then-Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, to create a tax credit for film companies.

Another agreement yielded the top-two primary system, a demand of former GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado, who was one of only three Republicans to vote for the package and its tax increases.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 10:20 a.m. April 11 to correct that Sen. Maurice Johannessen is living.

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