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Notes from the State Capitol

Sacramento's Buzzing with Activity . . .
Politics, Budget, Mandates & More

By Vernon Billy - February 12, 2010

Cash-Ola.  State Controller John Chiang announced that the State collected $1.28 billion more in tax revenue in January than what the Governor projected in his proposed 2010-11 budget.  This announcement was in contrast to Chiang’s earlier statement that the State would face another cash crunch and dip into the “red” in April.  The Controller now projects the State will run out of money in July.

The recent bounce in revenue is good news, but it’s not clear if this increase represents a one-time jump due to stock market activity, or a sign of an improving economy.  We hope for the latter.

Budget.  Under the requirements of the state constitution as enacted by Proposition 58, when the Governor declares a fiscal emergency and submits a budget proposal to address the emergency, the legislature must respond to the Governor’s proposal within 45 days.  Therefore, the deadline for the legislature to respond to the Governor’s budget proposal under the terms of the Proposition 58 constitutional requirements is February 22nd. 

In responding to the Governor, the Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees held various hearings to discuss the Governor’s budget.  While some of the hearings were informative for the general public, for the most part, the hearings were all theater, as Democratic leaders had already begun working on their own budget proposals before the hearings.

For K-12 education, legislative staff and members have indicated that they will not take any of the major education budget reduction proposals in the Governor’s budget until the May Revise is released.  While this is generally good news, capitol sources have indicated that the legislature will go along with some form of the Governor’s proposed gasoline sales tax swap with an excise tax, which if consistent with the Governor’s proposal, would cause an $800 million reduction in the Proposition 98 formula.  The details will be key.

Speaking of details, pick up the phone and remind your legislators of a little detail - K-12 education has already been cut by more than $17 billion or $2,800 per student within the last 24 months (this includes Prop 98 manipulations, cuts, deferrals etc).

Seriously, pick up the phone, do it!

Bills.  The State has no money, but that hasn’t stopped the annual introduction of new bill proposals (See our list of introduced bills each week in our Bills On The Move section).  We expect many of these bills to die a quick death during the legislative process, but education advocates in Sacramento are keying in on proposals to provide greater flexibility to schools, capture additional dollars from technical budget or programmatic changes, and relieve districts from overly prescriptive regulations and mandates.

While we are discussing mandates, the State Legislative Analyst released an almost 30 page report entitled “Education Mandates:  Overhauling a Broken System” that urges the legislature and Governor to reform the mandate system by essentially doing away with most mandates and saving the state more than $350 million annually in K-14 mandates.

While most educators agree the mandate system is in need of significant improvement and drastic changes to simplify the process, the state also needs to focus on funding the more than $3.6 billion – that’s right “b” for billion – in outstanding mandate claims that the state owes schools for mandates they have complied with in prior years.  

But, like the rest of the budget these payments are wrapped in the budget politics and the state’s need for cash-ola.

Politics.  No “mojo” for Maldo…State Senator Abel Maldonado’s bid to become the next Lieutenant Governor was nixed on Thursday as Democratic assembly members mounted a fierce challenge to the moderate senator’s appointment to the second highest political office in California. 

But, the Governor is already arguing that the Assembly’s action is irrelevant because they were unable to garner 41 votes (equivalent to a majority of the 80 member Assembly) against Senator Maldonado appointment.  The final Assembly vote was 37-35.

Don’t be surprised if we have another extended battle over the budget because the Senate is “one” vote short of passing the budget.

There was some forward progress for Republicans in the Assembly.  Newly elected Assembly Republican Leader Martin Garrick (R-Carlsbad) announced the selection of the rest of his leadership team.  Here’s his A Team line up – Caucus Chair, Assemblywoman Connie Conway (R-Visalia); Assistant Leaders, Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Diamond Bar) and Jim Nielsen (R-Biggs); Chief Republican Whip, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (R-San Diego); and Republican Whips, Assemblymen Ted Gaines (R-Roseville), Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) and Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita).

Congrats to the new Assembly Republican Leadership team.

And finally, as the Assembly is preparing for the swearing in of a new Speaker, the existing Speaker Karen Bass (D-LA) may already have a new job.  Yesterday, Los Angeles Congresswoman Diane Watson announced her retirement from the House of Representatives and many capitol insiders believe Speaker Bass has this seat locked up if she chooses to replace the venerable congresswoman from Los Angeles.  We tend to agree.  Stay tuned.

Editor's Note:  Vernon M. Billy is president of Governmental Solutions Group, LLC (GSG) a Sacramento-based consulting and legislative advocacy firm. GSG serves public and private education organizations, non-profit organizations and private sector companies.