July 21, 2014
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.
The Calm Before the Storm
July is the eye of the hurricane in the state capital. The town is eerily quiet. As temperatures skyrocket, politicians scatter for their districts – or places ever farther afield. More on that in a minute.
In the meantime, there’s not a lot of visible activity under the dome. The legislature is on its annual month-long summer recess, and the town has ground to a virtual standstill. The restaurants and cafes around the Capitol are empty. Staffers who normally wear suits or dresses instead roll into the office in jeans. Without the bosses around, the place can feel almost normal.
It won’t last. Soon, this place will be buzzing again, as lawmakers return for a month-long sprint that will see hundreds of bills come up for votes, many of them finding their way to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown has been signing a handful of what would be considered minor pieces of legislation during the break, as he prepares for his trip to Mexico later this month. Continuing his quest to position himself as a global leader on the issue of climate change, the environment will loom large during the governor’s travels, just as it did during Brown’s trip to China last year.
State Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg is also putting his passport to use. In one of his final acts as pro tem, Steinberg is leading a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to El Salvador and Guatemala to meet with leaders there to discuss the current immigration crisis that put the city of Murrieta in national headlines.
Good News and Bad News
What news there is involving state politics these days is mostly positive – at least when it comes to finances. The state’s general fund ended the 2013-14 fiscal year with a surplus – the first time since 2007 that the state has ended a year in the black.
The numbers were so good that Moody’s decided to give California an upgrade. The credit rating agency elevated California to its highest ranking in 13 years – just the latest in a long series of signs that the Great Recession is in our state’s rearview mirror.
Big problems remain, however. Unemployment remains high for a recovery period, and poverty is persistent. An estimated 11 million people are expected to be enrolled in Medi-Cal by the end of this year – a clear sign that even in recovery, the California economy is not working for everybody.
But people at the bottom end of the economic ladder got some good news as well. Earlier this month, the state’s minimum wage hike went into effect. The minimum hourly compensation is now $9 in the state, and will go up again to $10 in January 2016. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the wage hike at the end of last year’s legislative year, indicative of the types of last-minute accords that can mark the end of a legislative session.
This year should be no different. We all know that water will be toward the top of lawmakers’ agendas, with all sides trying to close in on a water bond deal for the November ballot. But
over the next couple of weeks – in particular that final week in August – we should all be bracing for some unexpected surprises to come from the Capitol.
The jockeying will be fierce and the hours long, and this languid summer recess period will be a distant memory. Sure, it’s quiet now. But the storm is coming.