State Treasurer Bill Lockyer generated a storm last week with his testimony before the Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Improving State Government.
He warned that public pensions and health care costs could bankrupt the state, that taxes will not go up, and that the legislature should clean up its act by getting rid of “junk” bills. An edited clip of his testimony can be viewed here.
Some might argue this was Lockyer’s Nixon-to-China moment, telling his Democratic colleagues to deal forthrightly with the state’s fiscal realities. In FlashReport, Former Republican State Senator Ray Haynes that Lockyer as the state senate leader had a different view of pensions, but now welcomed him to the fight.
The former legislative leader and former attorney general is no stranger to bold speaking.
Lockyer has suggested that one way to remove the effects of money in elected politics is to pick the legislature by lottery. He proposed the University of California system be cut loose from state funding and allow it to survive on foundation grants, alumni giving, tuitions and research contracts. At the Milken Institute conference earlier last week, Lockyer said the state needed a spending limit.
Which of these proposals were serious and which were intended to stir debate is not clear. However, the spotlight has fallen on the treasurer as California searches for a way out the abyss.
Journalist Greg Lucas, in his California Capitol blog, recapped Lockyer’s testimony before the joint committee and went as far as to ask, “Why Isn’t This Man California’s Next Governor?”
Predictably, Lockyer is already feeling the backlash against his comments from some public employee union members. The liberal website Calitics said Lockyer will not be governor because the base has concerns with him. His admission that he voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor in the recall election did not endear him to Democratic Party activists.
Perhaps, the activist base has qualms. But, I expect the average Democratic voter will like what he or she hears from Lockyer about “junk” bills and unsustainable pensions. Lockyer’s vote for Schwarzenegger told voters that his first concern was to fix California’s problems and not to adhere to party orthodoxy. That vote did not hurt him in his race for treasurer.
(I teamed with Lockyer in 1998 on Proposition 220 to consolidate superior and municipal courts to allow for faster justice and to save taxpayers money. The measure passed handily.)
Lockyer’s stance proves you don’t have to be out of office to make statesman like pronouncements. Perhaps, Lockyer’s leadership will convince others to step up in an effort to find some solutions for California’s troubles.