Every year for the last two-and-a-half decades a lobbyist friend and I
break down the recently-departed legislative session. Our exchange usually goes
something like this:
Me: I can’t believe that crowd, they can’t possibly sink any lower than
Her: Loren, they can always go lower.
In point of fact, the special talent of the Legislature is to find new
and different ways to astonish and disappoint even the most gimlet-eyed
So what was the craven act that set me off this year?
Was it the last-minute bouquets tossed to organized labor? Bills passed
to allow at-home child care workers to organize and to
prevent local government or local voters from prohibiting project labor agreements?
Nah – that’s standard issue care-and-feeding of favored constituencies.
Was it the last minute exemption from CEQA for another big
LA County stadium?
No – that’s an example of the pathology of the litigation swamp that now
defines the California Environmental Quality Act, something the Legislature
should fix, but predictably hasn’t.
Was it the decision to move the public vote on all statewide initiatives
and referenda to the November ballot, thereby arguably increasing the
Democratic base on measures of concern to Democratic leadership?
Not really – presenting statewide measures to the largest voter base
could be salutary, just as the top-two primary will ensure the most competitive
legislative candidates face the largest voter base.
But we’re getting close. One element of this last measure – Senate Bill
202 – was a truly noxious sleight-of-hand. Surfacing only in the last hours of
the session, Democrats maneuvered the bill to postpone until November of 2014
the statewide vote on the only budget reform measure to have been approved by
the Legislature and Governor.
Known as ACA 4, this proposed constitutional amendment
strengthens the state’s Rainy Day Fund and prohibits using one-time revenues
for ongoing programs. It represents the bare minimum that taxpayers should
expect for good budget behavior by a Legislature. (I discussed the advantages of this measure a
couple weeks ago, when it was under fire by Treasurer Bill Lockyer.)
But our Legislature is not just any legislature. They saw the deal made
with Governor Schwarzenegger last November, and took the opportunity to throw
it out the window. Government unions claimed the measure would
starve their programs, but the measure would kick in only when there is
sustained healthy budget growth.
More to the point, it is inconceivable that minority Republicans would
ever again agree to a tax and reform deal that included a vote on a future
ballot measure, when it is evident that majority Democrats have no compunction
about indefinitely postponing that deal-making ballot vote.
Fourteen Senators and twenty-three members of the Assembly voted for ACA
4 last October and then last week for SB 202, which undermined the ACA 4 deal.
These members, and especially the Legislative Democratic leadership, have cast
the most significant vote against constructive engagement and for
hyperpartisanship in many years. It’s now up to Gov. Brown to remedy this
egregious lapse in legislative judgment and demonstrate that the majority need
not by tyrannical.
Follow Loren on Twitter: @KayeLoren