January 04, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Back to work
The legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown are back in Sacramento, taking up much of the unfinished business of the 2015 legislative year, and with a few new initiatives in store.
The action begins in earnest later this week, when Brown releases his state budget plan. With state revenues still strong, the dynamics of the state budget fight are familiar: Democrats will be pushing for expanded spending on social programs, while Brown will seek targeted investments while espousing ideals of fiscal conservatism. If past is indeed prologue, Brown will work to tamp down Democratic expectations. We’re guessing a nod to this week’s shaky start on Wall Street may be invoked by the governor as a reminder of the precarious nature of our state’s fiscal health.
But Brown is expected to launch at least one new major proposal. The governor has hinted at pushing for sweeping changes in the state’s sentencing laws, and there are indications that Brown may use his political capital, and some of the millions of dollars he has in his political accounts, to push for state voters to revamp the state’s sentencing rules. It would be the latest in a string of criminal justice reforms that we have seen since Brown retook office. Brown himself led the push for the policy known as realignment, sending thousands of criminals arrested for lower-level crimes to local jails instead of state prisons.
In 2014, voters approved Proposition 47, which reclassified several felonies as misdemeanors, further alleviating some of the crowding pressures that have placed the state prisons in federal receivership, while adding new stress to local jails and new riddles for local law enforcement and community leaders.
Already, there are some signs of agreement among the parties. Both Democrats and Republicans have said they want to increase funding for services for the developmentally disabled, something that was overlooked in last year’s budget despite the state’s robust economic health.
There are other major, and more contentious, issues on the table. Among them is a $1 billion hole in the health care budget, due to the legislature’s failure to agree on a new managed care tax plan. Republicans in the legislature have said the state’s strong revenues show there is no need to renew the tax, which would have to apply to public and private hospitals, in the wake of a recent federal ruling.
Transportation will be another major fight, as last year’s special session yielded no progress on the state’s massive infrastructure needs. And Brown being Brown, there are likely a couple of other wildcards that we’ll all be talking about after the budget release, as we set the table for another legislative year.
Meanwhile, leadership changes abound in the Legislature. The Republicans have two new leaders, with Senator Jean Fuller and Assemblyman Chad Mayes. And Democrats are bracing for a new speaker as Anthony Rendon prepares to take the gavel from San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins.
This is also an election year. Not only is there an open U.S. Senate seat on the line for the first time since 1992, but a host of ballot initiatives and legislative races are expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in spending. Given the intra-Democratic Party fights of the last session, and the new term limits dynamics, rumors abound about potential primary challenges for Democrats up and down the state from members of their own party. This Back to the Future dynamic is in part the byproduct of new term limits laws and demographic changes in the state that have raised the stakes for Democratic legislative contests.
Also at stake is a special election for California’s 31st Assembly District seat, recently vacated by Henry Perea. The California Medical Association (CMA) is supporting a Fresno area emergency room physician (and CMA member), Joaquin Arambula, M.D., in this competitive race. Dr. Arambula is endorsed by Perea himself, as well as by a number of other prominent local leaders.
Throughout the year, during all the twists and turns, we’ll be here to document the legislative and political fights, and keep you up-to-date on the latest Capitol intrigue. It’s shaping up to be quite a year.