Dan Walters

Gov. Jerry Brown, in 14th year as governor, hits a new high in vetoes

Supporters of a bill to raise California’s minimum wage celebrate outside the state Senate Chamber after the measure was approved by the Senate on March 31, 2016. Senate Bill 3 will gradually raise California’s minimum wage to a nation-leading $15 an hour by 2022. It’s one of four bills labeled “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce to make it into law.
Supporters of a bill to raise California’s minimum wage celebrate outside the state Senate Chamber after the measure was approved by the Senate on March 31, 2016. Senate Bill 3 will gradually raise California’s minimum wage to a nation-leading $15 an hour by 2022. It’s one of four bills labeled “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce to make it into law. Associated Press file

Gov. Jerry Brown closed the books on the Legislature’s 2015-16 session late Friday by issuing his final batch of bills signed or vetoed.

As with the regular baseball season that ended two days later, it’s time to dive into the statistics and see who did what for the record book.

In his 14th year as governor, Brown appeared to be a little more impatient with legislators. This year, he vetoed a higher proportion of measures they sent to his desk, 159 of 1,059, or 15.01 percent, than he had rejected in any of his previous 13 years in the governorship.

During Brown 1.0 – 1975 to 1983 – his high point of vetoes was 7.87 percent in 1976, and by 1982, it had declined to 1.79 percent, according to a detailed report issued each year by the state Senate staff. Overall, Brown has rejected 8 percent of the 15,935 bills sent to him during his 14 years in the governorship.

At 15.01 percent, Brown’s 2016 veto ratio was more in keeping with Republican governors who served in between his two stints: George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The latter is the veto champion among recent governors, rejecting 35.17 percent of the measures he received in 2008 and never dropping below 22 percent.

Over the last half-century, the number of bills sent to governors has drifted downward. It never dropped below 1,000 until 2003 – the high being the 2,143 sent to Deukmejian in 1990, his last year. But since 2003, the bill flow only occasionally has topped 1,000.

The decline is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean that the Legislature is being more serious and less frivolous. But it also may reflect a recent proclivity for producing complex, multisubject measures, particularly as budget “trailer bills,” rather than dealing with issues individually, which is not a good thing.

Brown’s vetoes this year included one of the five bills named by the California Chamber of Commerce as “job killers” that survived the legislative session.

Since 1999, the chamber has placed that epithet on 553 bills, including 24 this year, that it considers to be the most hostile to business. Not surprisingly, the bills it targets tend to be the highest-priority issues for the chamber’s traditional political rivals – labor unions, environmental groups, personal injury attorneys and consumer activists.

Although the Legislature is dominated by Democrats allied with those four groups, the chamber has been remarkably successful in killing bills on its lists, with just 9.6 percent becoming law since 1999.

The chamber continued its high batting average this year. Of the 24 measures on the 2016 list, just five reached Brown’s desk and he signed four of them, including a landmark greenhouse gas bill he had sponsored and an increase in the state’s minimum wage to, eventually, $15 an hour.

Senate Bill 654, a hotly contested measure that would have increased a “family leave” mandate on employers, was the sole veto victim. Brown cited its impact on small businesses.

Two months from now, the Capitol’s bill mill will crank up again, and two months after that, baseball will open spring training.

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