Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorials: Governor gets it mostly right on bill signings

With California’s fiscal house no longer in crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown ended the legislative year by disposing of 896 bills, pleasing most of his constituents and angering relatively few.

Brown signed 800 regular-session bills in 2013 and vetoed 96. No doubt, we could do without some of the laws. But for the most part, Brown held the line against the extreme desires of his fellow Democrats who control every aspect of Sacramento.

Over the weekend, Brown did sign far-reaching legislation sponsored by one of his main patrons, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

One measure will prompt cities to pay higher state prevailing wages to hard hats when cities use their own money on public works projects. That bill will unnecessarily complicate local projects and result in litigation.

He approved another that will expand the use of prevailing wages to oil refineries, a step that likely will ensure more jobs for union workers and drive up labor costs. The Western States Petroleum Association and California Chamber of Commerce opposed it.

Even so, business fared reasonably well this year. The California Chamber of Commerce identified 38 bills that were so-called job killers. Brown signed only one into law, a boost to California’s minimum wage, which is much needed.

While Brown signed many bills promoted by labor, he vetoed some turkeys, including one by Speaker John A. Pérez to grant greater workers’ compensation rights to police and firefighters. In a veto message, Brown noted that he vetoed a nearly identical bill last year, also by Pérez. Perhaps now Pérez will get the hint.

Brown vetoed bills by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to ban semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable magazines, and by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, to take guns away from people convicted of alcohol abuse. That’s unfortunate. The governor, Steinberg and Wolk should work to find common ground on these important measures.

He rejected a bill that might have helped reduce prison population by allowing prosecutors to charge possession of heroin or cocaine as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than the current law, which requires they face felony charges. In his veto message, the governor promised to consider that issue as part of an overall examination of the current sentencing structure, an important undertaking for 2014 and beyond.

Brown’s biggest achievement of the year, other than signing a balanced budget on time, came in July when he signed legislation changing how the state will fund schools.

In the new formula, schools attended by lower-income students and English learners will get more money and all schools will gain more flexibility over how they spend it. Success or lack of it won’t come overnight. But without a doubt, the state must help students in struggling schools.

Now in the third year of his third term, Brown is the longest-serving governor in California history. He won’t be judged on the mass of bills he signed and vetoed in 2013, but rather on bigger matters, such as whether he can resolve – rather than intensify – some of California’s water conflicts, and can buck the naysayers by efficiently launching the build-out of high-speed rail. On legislative matters, however, he continues to show himself to be independent, judicious and unpredictable – traits that voters may find appealing if and when he runs again in 2014.