It’s not difficult to figure out what issues will dominate the new biennial session of the Legislature.
They’ll be issues that have kicked around for years, even decades, without being resolved – plus some sturm-und-drang over whatever Donald Trump has in mind.
The biggies will be two complex, worsening crises – deterioration of our once-vaunted roadway system as it’s pounded by nearly a billion vehicle-miles of automotive travel each day, and an acute housing shortage.
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Transportation officials have warned for years that California’s roadways are crumbling from heavy use and maintenance neglect.
There’s no shortage of proposals to shore up maintenance, but all involve tax increases, and lining up two-thirds legislative votes for taxes has proved elusive.
Democrats now have two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses and, therefore, theoretically enough votes to pass new taxes.
However, legislative leaders would prefer, for political cover, to have bipartisan support. They thought, momentarily at least, that they had it and almost called the Legislature back to Sacramento in November, but it didn’t happen.
The housing nut has been equally difficult to crack because it, too, has many stakeholders with disparate agendas.
California needs to build at least 100,000 new housing units a year to match population growth, but fell way behind during the Great Recession and hasn’t caught up.
The shortage has driven housing costs sky-high, particularly in major urban areas, and is the biggest factor in California’s having the nation’s highest level of poverty.
Several plans have been floated to put more money into housing – such as a tax on real estate transactions or eliminating the income tax deduction for interest on second homes – but even if Democrats can muster two-thirds votes for these tax changes, they’d have no more than a marginal effect on the crisis.
The key to expanding housing supply is encouraging private investment, which lags because of negative attitudes toward development in local governments, driven largely by misplaced environmental sensitivity.
Brown has proposed a very mild regulatory streamlining for some kinds of housing, but so far it hasn’t gained traction due to stiff opposition from local governments, environmental groups and some unions.
There are other issues, of course.
The annual budget wrangle is also likely to be a repeat of efforts by Democrats to spend more and Brown’s insistence that any extra revenue be stored away to cushion a future recession.
Brown will be trying – not for the first time – to gain legislative reauthorization of the state’s cap-and-trade system of limiting carbon emissions as a cornerstone of his climate change crusade.
Finally, Democratic supermajorities will be tested not only on taxes but efforts to blunt any immigration crackdown by the Trump White House, and the Legislature’s bloc of moderate Democrats will once again be in the middle of economic issues that pit unions and other liberal groups against business and employer interests.