What's new is old: budget issues top legislators' to-do lists
The Legislature started a new two-year session Dec. 6 with swearing-in ceremonies and the formal election of officers.
Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda) was elected president pro tempore of the Senate on a unanimous vote. He replaces the termed out John Burton. And Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) was re-elected speaker of the Assembly. He first was elected in 2003.
The party affiliation of the Legislature remains unchanged. There are 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Senate, and 48 Democrats to 32 Republicans in the Assembly. Republican votes are needed to pass the budget again this year since a two-thirds vote is required.
Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill is predicting that California will face a budget deficit of close to $7 billion this fiscal year--and that deficit will grow by $3 billion to $10 billion for the following fiscal year unless the Legislature takes action to make budget cuts or increase taxes.
Republicans already have announced that they will focus again on reducing state spending through elimination of waste and Democrats are insisting on tax increases.
Capitol insiders already are predicting another long budget season with all of the partisan rancor that surrounded last year's efforts.
What's New is Old
This session promises to be something of a replay of last year for issues other than the budget. Capitol insiders call this practice "New wine in old bottles."
Legislators announced that they will reintroduce many of the same measures that were defeated last year, including driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, same sex marriage and more access to health care.
There are 24 new Assembly members and 10 new senators. All of the senators originally served in the Assembly, so they bring with them a history of serving in the Legislature. In this era of term limits, they are considered seasoned veterans of California's political system.
One of those new senators is Carol Migden (D-San Francisco), a former Assembly member termed out in 2002. She won a seat on the Board of Equalization while waiting for Sen. John Burton to retire.
Migden was appointed by Perata to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. This is quite a plum appointment for a freshman, but Migden held the same position in the Assembly.
The Appropriations Committee hears every bill that has any potential impact on state revenue, so virtually every bill will pass through her committee. Migden was famous in the Assembly for running efficient--and sometimes colorful--committee hearings.
In a surprising move, Perata reorganized the Senate by consolidating committees and decreasing the size of other committees. He complained that the number of committees was making it difficult for members to meet all their commitments and that they had to be in too many places at one time.
Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-San Leandro), who chaired the former Senate Business and Professions Committee, will chair the new Business and Professions and Economic Development Committee.
In the Assembly, the Business and Professions Committee will consider professional issues, where Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Los Angeles) is chair. This committee had been chaired by Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), who was termed out in 2004.
Other committee appointments had not been announced at press time.
Firsts for the new Legislature include the election of the first Vietnamese state representative--Rep. Van Tran (R-Orange County).
This is also the first time that a husband and wife are serving in the California Legislature at the same time. Sharon Runner (R) was elected to replace her husband in the Assembly, representing part of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. And her husband, George Runner (R), was sworn in as a senator representing parts of Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
Busy Upcoming Agenda
Following the organizational meeting, the Legislature recessed until Jan. 3, when the flurry of bill introductions will begin.
On the agenda for the profession will be Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed reorganization of state government.
The California Performance Review Commission issued its final report last year and the governor and his staff are putting final touches on what the governor has promised will be a "blow up the boxes proposal."
Early reports were that the California Board of Accountancy would continue as the only non-health licensing board proposed for retention, but the final decision rests with the governor.
The licensing functions of boards proposed for elimination would be assumed by a state agency. This is an approach used by many states, but public input and oversight is limited in this approach.
Bruce C. Allen is CalCPA's director of government relations.