Palace Sentries Dispatched To Guard The Drawbridge
The establishment in Sacramento has manned the barricades, battened down the hatches and gone on the offensive to prove their own worth. They sent their best man in the media, George Skelton, out to prove that no, despite your lying eyes, the California Legislature had a real banner year. After all, they managed to bring suffering to the lives of hundreds of thousands of state residents with consensus and bipartisan elan!
The current Legislature, regardless of Duvall and despite ideological polarization, has had a better year than it's getting credit for.
Its main accomplishment was keeping the state afloat amid a flood of red ink, created primarily by the toughest economic times since the Great Depression. OK, so it did use some bailing wire and chewing gum! The bills got paid, even if briefly with IOUs.
With great difficulty and pain -- at least for Democrats -- the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed programs by roughly $30 billion. They also struck a major blow against "auto-pilot" spending by permanently eliminating all automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments, except for K-12 schools. And they summoned enough courage to temporarily increase taxes by $12.5 billion.
In the end, they found a way to restore health insurance for 660,000 low-income kids.
The tax increases hit the more vulnerable elements of society disproportionately, of course. They actually found that way to restore children's health insurance by lowering industry taxes and increasing the co-pay and deductible burden on the low-income families themselves, while reducing the covered care. And anyone who adds cutting $30 billion in programs and eliminating COLA as an accomplishment is a bit of a social deviant. But there are probably no lengths to which Skelton will go to defend the palace walls from the rabble who think, based on the evidence, that the system is horribly broken.
Steve Maviglio wisely steers clear of the more horrific achievements of this year's Legislature, and offers a slightly more defensible outlook of the '09 Legislative session. Still, there's a lot unsaid:
Looking back, getting the measures on the May ballot was a significant early success that required 2/3 votes. And toward the end of the session, in addition to the renewable energy bill, Speaker Bass pushed through measures on childrens health and domestic violence that won broad bipartisan support. (The Speaker also got a standing ovation, and she appears to have strengthened her support in Caucus. Compare that to the ouster of the two Republican leaders).
Okay, so the grand water deal didn't get done. Big deal. Nothing like that has been done for a generation. Perhaps Senate President pro Tem Steinberg set the bar too high when he said he'd get it done. In any case, all parties agree that they got close and can pick up the pieces and get it finished in short order.
So for all those crying for major reforms, put it all into perspective. Sure, improvements could be made, and things could have been better, but this is not reason for drastic action. Far from it.
Of course, the renewable bill is veto bait, as are many of the other major bills pending the Governor's signature. And the domestic violence bill didn't pass the Senate, so, um, that doesn't count. The prison bill offered decent parole reforms but stopped well short of a real solution. Everyone keeps saying the water bill will happen but the two sides remain far apart, and the fact that they'll have to go into overtime to reconcile it kind of proves the point, no?
But Maviglio tips his hand with the line "this is not reason for drastic action." Of course he would say that. He's profited well from the status quo. Anything that messes with it could hurt him professionally, and what's more, could stop the endless blaming of outside factors to account for stunning failure.
There is no shame in stating that this was a failed legislative session. Just about everyone in California would agree with you, particularly the ones who are suffering the most from the destruction of social insurance caused by the most heartless cuts. Simply put, the Great Recession dominated legislative activity, and the conservative veto from various 2/3 requirements restricts the Legislature from fulfilling the expressed will of the people through their votes (NOTE: This does not only come into play with the budget; late last Friday Republicans blocked over 20 bills that required 2/3 votes for one reason or another, probably because they knew they could get away with it). That's not something to explain away, it's actually something to fight, every single day until the problem is rectified.
Skelton and Maviglio may want to tell themselves all is well, but the public knows better, and they're going to demand major structural change. Those who think that the Legislature can still be a force for good in the state can get aboard and provide the best ideas to break the supermajority gridlock and get the state moving again. Or they can defend their narrow interests. Their defense will fail, and it would be a shame not to see them on the right side of history.