Dan Walters

Opinion: California Legislature’s new session gets a preview

Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, right, reacts after the California Legislature passage of the budget bill at the State Capitol on Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.
Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, right, reacts after the California Legislature passage of the budget bill at the State Capitol on Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The Legislature returned to Sacramento on Monday – or, as a dystopian might say, to the scene of its previous crimes.

It was a brief return, just long enough for everyone to be sworn in for the biennial session, for promises of bipartisan comity and high-minded motives, for snapshots of several dozen newbies with their proud families, and, of course, for celebratory gatherings.

Convening in December, rather than January, was adopted by voters in 1972, along with a shift to a biennial session, on promises they would make the Legislature more efficient.

So much for good intentions. It may get newly elected lawmakers on the state payroll a month sooner, but gathering on the first Monday of December in even-numbered years has been a source of more political mischief than efficiency.

Take, for instance, what happened in December 1982. Jerry Brown, just a month away from ending his first stint as governor, and fellow Democrats hastily enacted a self-serving legislative redistricting plan that differed little from one that voters had rejected four weeks earlier.

Convening allows legislators to introduce new bills this month, although it’s unlikely any serious legislating will occur before winter turns to spring.

Some bills will be old wine in new bottles – proposals that didn’t make it in the last session, such as raising minimum wage; banning “microbeads” in cosmetics, which is a big cause for environmentalists; or delaying inclusion of automobile fuel in the state’s “cap-and-trade” program on greenhouse gases, which is expected to raise gas prices.

Some are of new vintage, such as banning bicycle tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge, requiring employers to pay double-time for holiday work or compelling officials to disclose more about their personal finances. Fat chance for that.

And some would undo what legislators did previously, such as a push by school districts to repeal a law that was secretly drafted this year at the behest of the California Teachers Association and other unions to limit local school reserves, thereby putting more money on the table for salaries.

Writing a state budget, which has been a quarrelsome process in most recent years, should be a relative snap because the state has more than enough money to cover its projected expenses.

However, the Legislature’s dominant Democrats will attempt to spend more than Brown, who will soon begin his fourth and final term as governor, wants.

The University of California is making an especially aggressive push for more state aid, threatening to boost tuition if it’s not forthcoming, but other interests, particularly those in health and welfare services, also want more to make up for recession-induced cuts.

Those games will commence in January, when the Legislature reconvenes for real and Brown reveals what he wants to spend in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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