CMA Capitol Insight: Feb. 2, 2015

February 02, 2015
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.

Setting the Stage

It’s time to mark turf in Sacramento. Less than one month after Gov. Jerry Brown laid out his vision for California’s budget, Senate Leader Kevin de León spoke to the press club in Sacramento to offer a slightly competing vision.

De León pushed Brown to do more to help the poor in California, laying out a legislative plan that the Senate leader said is focused on creating “opportunity for all Californians to fully participate in our state’s economic resurgence.”

De León’s vision includes incentives to create jobs and increased funding for the state’s social safety net.

“As we contemplate the good things we have experienced as a state, we also must be conscious of another, less comfortable fact,” he said. “Too many Californians are simply not a part of this economic growth. Income inequality is real and there is no place in the country where it is starker than California. Our unemployment and poverty rates are still too high compared to the rest of the nation.”

And, he said, government spending is an important part of reversing that trend. “One thing we’ve learned,” he said, “is that austerity alone won’t build our economy.”

De León, has who worked closely with billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, made a point of saying the inequality in California extends to environmental justice.

“As California works toward spreading economic opportunity to all Californians, the state must also invest resources in ensuring environmentally safe communities in the state’s less affluent neighborhoods.

“They have been the dumping ground for environmental hazards for decades resulting in unclean water, dirty air, and little-to-no park space,” he said. “This is the type of strategic investment that uses our current resources efficiently and tackles income inequality.

“Not only will this approach clean up some of our most polluted communities, it will create jobs and improve the quality of life in areas that suffer some of the country’s highest unemployment rates.”

De León said he believes the next round of middle class jobs will come from the green economy, and dismissed any suggestion that environmental regulation and economic vitality are contradictory.

De León also put some distance between himself and Brown, saying he supports more funding for higher education. The governor has tangled with leaders from the University of California, who have threatened to raise student tuition unless the state boosts its funding – something Brown said he does not support.

While it amounts to tinkering around the edges of the state budget, it does set up the parameters of the debate for the year ahead. The negotiations will test Brown’s relationship with a new batch of leaders in both parties who will be in the budget negotiations for the first time. Only Senate GOP leader Bob Huff and Speaker Toni Atkins have negotiated a budget with Brown and his administration before. The other leaders are first-timers, which can lead to some friction as new working relationships are established.

On the campaign front, plastic bag manufacturers are being accused of campaign fraud by environmentalists and others seeking to ban the use of single-use plastic bags.

The complaint stems from a referendum effort led by plastic bag manufacturers to overturn the new state law. Supporters of the ban say those groups willfully misled voters in their signature-gathering efforts.

Opponents of the ban have submitted signatures to county election officials to put the measure to a vote in November 2016.

“To ensure the integrity of the state referendum process is not tarnished by criminal behavior, we request an immediate investigation into these reports of voter fraud,” reads a letter from attorney Lance Olson, on behalf of the ban proponents. 

This is part and parcel for the kind of theater we expect from ballot measure campaigns – an attempt to get the media to bite on stories in a slow news cycle. The question with this referendum is whether or not there will actually be a funded campaign in support of repealing the law.

By simply qualifying the measure for the ballot, it will delay the implementation of the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown until voters have their say. That 15-month delay, free of charge, may be enough for the bag manufacturers to declare victory. Especially if faced with polling that suggests California voters are likely to support the ban.


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