Dan Walters

Is California’s Legislature the most liberal in state history?

Jerry Brown says he's willing to raise taxes: 'I have no future'

Gov. Jerry Brown came to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday April 3, 2017 to pitch his 10-year, $5.2 billion-a-year tax increase plan to fix California roads. He said lawmakers should act now, because the next governor will be hesitant
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Gov. Jerry Brown came to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday April 3, 2017 to pitch his 10-year, $5.2 billion-a-year tax increase plan to fix California roads. He said lawmakers should act now, because the next governor will be hesitant

Tax more, spend more and regulate more.

As state legislators completed their initial committee reviews of bills last week, it became evident that this year’s session may be the most liberal in California history.

A single-payer health care system, which could cost more than $250 billion a year, is emblematic of hundreds of liberal measures, or “progressive,” as those on the political left prefer to be known, in the works.

The Legislature has already approved one multibillion-dollar tax increase for highway repairs and other transportation services and a number of others are pending, including one that would impose a $4-plus billion tax on inheritances, should the Republicans controlling Washington repeal the federal estate tax.

The most far-reaching would impose sales taxes on services, although it’s not likely to move anytime soon.

Opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency permeates the Legislature and has sparked a number of bills, including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s measure to make California, in effect, a sanctuary state to protect the state’s two-plus million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

Anti-Trump sentiment also fuels measures to solidify state-level anti-pollution laws in the face of White House efforts to scale back federal regulation – especially the state’s strident efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to not only tighten mileage standards for cars, despite efforts to roll back federal-level rules, but seeks renewal of the state’s cap-and-trade system of regulating carbon emissions.

The latter is just one test of the Democratic supermajorities in both legislative houses, giving the party the power, at least on paper, to pass measures requiring two-thirds votes.

The supermajorities were in play in the transportation tax bill, although the defection of one Democrat in the Senate meant leaders had to persuade, via concessions, one Republican to back it.

Brown sought cap-and-trade reauthorization last year, but ran afoul of a bloc of moderate Democrats and had to settle for greenhouse gas legislation that lacked reauthorization.

One member of the “mod squad” fell to a primary challenge last year, and the bloc’s efficacy is yet to be tested this year. Virtually all supported the transportation tax, but the measure had support of business groups that fostered the bloc’s emergence.

Legislative leaders clearly hope that anti-Trump fervor and rising pressure from unions and other liberal groups can overcome mod squad resistance and generate a wave of liberal legislation, such as single-payer health coverage. A key metric will be the fate of 23 liberal bills that have drawn “job killer” designations by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Leaders also want substantial changes in the budget that Brown proposed in January – hundreds of millions, and perhaps billions, more for such things as a vast expansion of early childhood education.

Whether the session turns out to be as left-of-center as its early indications will, of course, depend on Brown because he has the last word.

Brown’s second governorship has been relatively centrist, especially when it comes to the budget. But he’s got less than two years remaining, will not face voters again and is in full legacy mode.

Brown’s not only displaying traces of his inner liberal these days, but must contend with very liberal legislative leaders as he seeks legacy accomplishments, which makes him potentially vulnerable to pressure on their issues.

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