Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Water into Whine

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The water bond's short-term prospects, we assume, were all wet . . .


“Water, water everywhere . . .” 

 . . . But not on the November ballot, if the Legislature follows Gov. Schwarzenegger’s lead and opts to move Proposition 18, the $11.14 billion water bond, to the 2012 cycle (it would require a 2/3 majority of the Legislature, thus creating some Sacramento pretzel logic: Democrats would be voting to table a bill they want here and now; Republicans would be voting to breathe into new life into a bill they detest). 

Why the sudden move? 

The Governator says it’s because the bond is too important to have its outcome affected by the stalled budget process (California’s state now officially one day overdue, having missed the pre-July deadline for getting a new spending plan in place by end of California’s 2009-10 fiscal year). 

And that raises the prospect of budget talks that coul drag toward Labor Day . . . past the kickoff of football season . . . toward . . . Halloween? Ok, maybe that long. But I would choose the Oct. 9 USC-Stanford football game as a good place to put an over-under on when the budget deal is finally cut.  

But getting back to water politics . . . 

Backing away from Prop 18 makes sense, as it lightens Arnold’s load. For in addition to settling the budget impasse, Schwarzenegger also will be orchestrating the campaign to defeat Proposition 23 which would roll back AB 32, California’s global-warming bill of four years ago and one of Schwarzenegger’s prize accomplishments. 

Besides, he probably was looking at a grim outcome: in the present political climate, Prop 18 (aka,  the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010) was cruising for a November bruising. The measure embodied the worst of California’s political process. It was stealthy (a back-room special). It was wasteful (about $2 billion in pork). It was a crazy-quilt of special interests. 

And, in a foul-mood election, Prop 18 numerically would have been the first of the ten initiatives on the November ballot, thus making it an inviting target for an angry “no”. 

Which begs the question: 

If Prop 18 was destined to fail, why aren’t we seeing more California lawmakers either on the verge of getting the heave-ho, or seeking early retirement? 

Could it be that the 100 State Assembly and Senate districts are all so cleverly designed — and all so blast-proof? 

Could it be that the mainstream of the California electorate — not the safety-net or government contractors but middle-class taxpayers — really isn’t all that affected by stalled budgets. Remember: schools are still open; state parks don’t close; cops are still on the street. 

The answer is Sacramento lawmakers are a protected species. But the institution itself is in trouble. Look back a year ago, to the special election and the six measures on that ballot. The first five of those, Props 1A-E, were cooked up by the Governor and the Legislature. Only one (Prop 1B, addition funding for primary education) managed to crack the 38% barrier). 

But there was one winner on the ballot: Prop 1F. It received 74% support. Its promise: no pay raises for lawmakers during deficit years. 

Earlier this year, voters gave the California State Legislature a record-low 9% approval rating.  As you read this, lawmakers have been given a pass to go back to their home districts for July, and not hang around the State Capitol and get nowhere fast on the budget stalement. 

The good news: taxpayers won’t have to cover those $142 per diem living expenses that lawmakers collect while on the job in Sacramento. The bad news: some voters will conclude that legislators would rather work on their summer tans than the budget.  

Thus stoking the argument for something ominous headed the Legislature’s way: a demotion to part-time status

Unless they could do something miraculous, like passing on budgets on time. Which is about as likely as turning water into wine.


Written by Bill Whalen

June 30, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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