The announcement of a swift bipartisan deal on Gov. Jerry Brown’s rainy-day fund proposal is a clear sign that there has been a cultural shift in the Capitol.
In the bad old days, marked by sharp partisanship, the fight over the rainy day fund would have been more about leverage than policy.
We saw this throughout the last decade. Democrats ran roughshod over Republicans during the day to day operations of the Capitol. But that was also the pre-Prop 25 era, when a two-thirds requirement was needed to pass a state budget. That meant the budget was the one time of the year where Democrats had to pay attention to Republicans. And those Republicans who were willing to play with Democrats often extracted concessions that had nothing to do with the budget itself.
The only reason we have a top-two primary system now is because Abel Maldonado named his price for his 2009 budget vote.
There are those who would argue such deals are the very essence of politics. Certainly it’s been how business was done in Sacramento through most of the Davis and Schwarzenegger administrations, when budget debates turned into hostage negotiations which led to all-nighters in the Capitol and quirky policies being belched out at the 11th hour.
Since the budget vote threshhold was changed, Republicans haven’t had much leverage in Sacramento. The last gasp of GOP relevance was early 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown tried and failed to get Republican support for a special election on taxes. Those grand bargain negotiations failed, ultimately leading to Proposition 30 and a few years of virtual irrelevance for Republican lawmakers.
But GOP leaders Bob Huff and Connie Conway have since decided to take a different tact. The GOP had its own preferred spending limit proposal – ACA 4. But they quickly struck a deal with Brown which will abandon that proposal and slightly tweak the governor’s original plan.
The notion of a meaningful reserve fund is a legitimate fiscally conservative issue. But in the past, good or necessary policies have been tangled in petty Capitol politics. Not this time.
Maybe it’s the end of the era of deficits. Perhaps the years in the political wilderness have prompted a change in GOP tactics. Maybe it’s the different mix of personalities of the legislative leaders and the governor. Or maybe it’s the fact that this team of five leaders has had a chance to work together for more than three years.
Whatever the reason, this week’s announcement was a win for Gov. Jerry Brown. But it also shows an increased willingness from lawmakers in both parties to collaborate when it makes policy sense. It showed a triumph of policy over politics, and if the policy works as advertised, it could be a win for the entire state.