CMA Capitol Insight: June 9, 2014

June 09, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.

Budget Wrangling

Lawmakers have until June 15 to send a budget to Gov. Jerry Brown, and some haggling over big-ticket items remains. The first question is how much money the state has to spend. Estimates from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) project about $2 billion more in revenues during the next fiscal year than the governor’s office is projecting. That is to be expected. Brown’s office has always used conservative budget projections as a way to keep state spending in check.

While the two branches are about $2 billion apart on paper, the reality is they are much closer. Of the “extra” $2 billion in the LAO proposal, about $1.5 billion would go to schools under the Proposition 98 guarantee. That means lawmakers and Gov. Brown are really haggling over about $500 million – about half of one percent of overall state spending.

But some key differences remain. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, who will be forced from office by term limits later this year and is in the midst of his final budget negotiation as Senate leader, wants more money for preschool programs for kids from low-income families. The Senate is also pushing for more money from the state’s cap-and-trade program to be dedicated to public transit systems. Gov. Brown wants most of the money to pay for the controversial high-speed rail.

This is Speaker Toni Atkins’ first go-round as leader in budget negotiations. Much of the staff from the previous speaker, John Perez, are still working for Atkins. But on the member-to-member level, there seems to be a détente of sorts between the two houses. Steinberg and Perez often clashed on a stylistic and personal level, but there appears to be more comity between Atkins and Steinberg.

Recovering From the Election

Sacramento is still recovering from a statewide election that tested the state’s new top-two primary system for the first time in a statewide race. Many legislative races were influenced by the new rules, which were in effect for the first time in 2012. A number of moderate candidates wound up advancing to November runoffs, and many were elected unexpectedly that fall.

This year’s biggest surprise was in the race for State Controller, where a three-way battle is still underway for the right to face Republican Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno who emerged as the top vote getter. Democrats were anticipating a tough battle between Perez and Democratic Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee for the second spot. But nobody saw David Evans coming.

Evans is a Republican from California City who spent $600 on his campaign, but had a great ballot designation – chief financial officer. As of this writing, Evans, a conservative Republican, is clinging to the second spot, with Perez and Yee within hundreds of votes out of more than 2 million ballots cast. Thousands of late absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, but new updates are coming in daily.

Under the state’s primary rules, the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the November runoff. If Evans holds onto his lead, it would ensure that the Controller’s office goes to the GOP in a state that has only elected two Republicans to statewide office in the last 12 years.

Establishment Republicans breathed a sigh of relief as newcomer Neel Kashkari bested Minutemen founder and conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly for the GOP gubernatorial nod. While Kashkari is not expected to beat Jerry Brown in the fall, his nomination gives the party a chance to rebrand after decades in the political wilderness in California.

Kashkari has vowed to challenge Brown on the issue of poverty, highlighting the fact that about a quarter of the state’s population is living in poverty despite the budget moving back into balance. Kashkari, a former Wall Street executive with no political experience, may have a credibility issue talking about poverty, but the issue has been a blindspot of sorts for Brown, who has chosen instead to focus on the positive parts of the California recovery.

In the legislative races, organized labor was a big winner, pushing Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti past Orinda City Councilman Steve Glazer in the race for an open Bay Area Assembly seat. Glazer, a former Jerry Brown adviser who worked for the Chamber of Commerce, had about $2 million in backing from the business community, and labor matched that amount for Sbranti.

In other races, former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler lost her bid for state Senate in the Los Angeles beach cities area. Democrats Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke will face off in a fall head-to-head matchup.

In Sacramento, Dr. Richard Pan heads to a runoff against fellow Democrat and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson.


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