Dan Walters: Democratic ownership of Capitol has a price
01/06/2013 12:00 AM
02/26/2013 8:19 PM
Democrats now control all the strings in the state Capitol.
They can, at least on paper, do anything they wish without giving Republicans anything more than cursory attention.
However, sole ownership also means sole responsibility. No more pointing the finger at recalcitrant Republicans. No more excuses for failing to balance the state budget – especially since voters also provided billions of dollars in new tax money. No more ducking education reform and myriad other issues that have festered year after year.
The new taxes should almost cover the annual imbalance between state budget's income and outgo, but they're not enough to restore the health, welfare and higher education funds that have been slashed in recent years – especially if much of it is spent, as Gov. Jerry Brown prefers, on reducing $30 billion-plus in budget deficit debt.
Whether to spend the money on debt reduction or program restoration looms as a major conflict, since influential Democratic constituencies prefer the latter.
Brown will place particular emphasis on an overhaul of school finance when he delivers his proposed 2013-14 budget and his State of the State speech this month. He wants to simplify the flow of money to local school districts, eliminating many of the single-purpose earmarks, giving local school officials more leeway and shifting more money to schools with large numbers of poor and educationally deficient students.
His initial "weighted formula" proposal went nowhere, due to skepticism by the powerful educational establishment, but Brown hopes that new money will provide enough lubrication to make it happen.
Two other pithy issues also will occupy the Legislature's dominant Democrats in the biennial session that begins in earnest this month – water and regulatory reform.
An $11.1 billion water bond that the Legislature and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved three years ago has been sidetracked, and Brown and lawmakers say they want to eliminate its pork and make it smaller.
The bonds' money would grease, although not pay for, an immense tunnel project to carry water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and opponents – particularly environmental groups – will use the bond issue as leverage.
Brown and Democratic leaders also say they want to respond to business complaints that regulation, especially the California Environmental Quality Act, is an impediment to economic recovery. But CEQA is an iconic touchstone for environmental groups.
Ironically, therefore, the dominant Democratic leadership in the Capitol may find itself at odds with its supposed allies on how to spend the new tax money, on water, on education, and on regulatory reform.
Sole ownership means sole accountability for results.
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