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Schwarzenegger Acting the Tough Guy to Cover for His Weakness? Both Houses of California Legislature Meeting This Morning—But Don’t Hold Your Breath

I was at the Governor’s press conference yesterday afternoon to see and hear directly his announcement that he would veto any bills sent to him before a state budget is passed. You can read his remarks in their entirety as dutifully transcribed by the Governor’s press office and published on these pages yesterday.


I watched the faces of the Governor and the staff the entered with him for clues as to what he was going to say at this suddenly announced event with my trusty tape recorder going so I could get the quotes right afterwards. Thankfully, someone else did that for me, and I have gone over the transcript several times for clues after arriving home late last night. With different groups of reporters scurrying about the Capitol, seeking comments from legislators who did not seem anxious to take the Governor’s bait, we tried to get some sense of what effect these words from the Governor would have on the process.

I met a seasoned political observer on the lawn of the Capitol as I departed, and he told me that the Governor looked tired, that the spring had gone out of his step, and that it looked like he was giving up. That matched my observation at the press conference. My take: The Governor is trying to shift any attention from himself and focus it on the legislature in this impasse. He needs to do some heavy lifting and get some Republican votes for a budget or he is powerless—and I’m not sure he can. I don’t think he has been able to deliver on the cartoon version of the world he encapsulated his campaign promises in when he ran for and won his office in the recall election in 2003.

Earlier in the day, there were reports from staff that there would be a vote in one house or perhaps both on the budget today. It was not known, and is still not known if any votes will be on the conference committee budget that has been sent to the floor and has been waiting there for some time—or if there will be a different version “mocked up,” perhaps with a sales tax in it or other provisions.

The Assembly Democrats were in caucus yesterday afternoon and for some time. Both houses are scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. this morning (legislative time) and there may be additional conferences before matters are taken up.

Despite what the Governor might say if asked, his statement yesterday--which I take as a threat he will carry out—is part of the kabuki dance in this process. The legislature can hold up bills from going to the Governor’s desk—and if someone looks at the historic record they have done so several times in the past for as long as a month. Joint Rule 24 of the legislature has an elaborate procedure that must be followed before a bill arrives on the metaphorical or real “Governor’s desk.” It has to go through an engrossing and enrolling process.

Also, under the rules of each house of the legislature, by a vote of a majority of those present and voting, they can direct when bills go to the Governor. They could, theoretically, decide that all bills passed in the last few weeks of the session are to be sent to the Governor on, say, September 15.

For bills already passed and those that may be passed before August 18, the Governor has 12 days to sign them, veto them, or if he does not act, they become law.

After then, we are in the end game rules, where the Governor has 30 days to sign or veto bills.

Article IV, Section 10(b)(2) of the California Constitution states that for any bills that the Governor gets possession of on or after September 1, that he has until September 30 to sign or veto them. If my reading of this Article is correct, there is no limitation other than in section (d), which states that the legislature may not pass bills after November 15 of this year as to when a bill can be presented to the governor.

We’re in a bit of uncharted waters here—because of the Governor’s statement yesterday—and that could make for some interesting plays.

From what was said yesterday to me in confidence by legislative staff and what is now confirmed in what legislators themselves—Democrat and Republican alike—have said in this morning’s press—the Governor’s latest statement is not really helpful and not going to get us any closer to getting a budget. If we do today, it will be in spite of what the Governor said.

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The Governor in his statement bemoaned the failure of the state getting a budget on time and said we have the “worst budget system in the United States.” He may be correct—but it is because of the two-thirds vote needed in both houses. A minority of one-third plus one in either house rules . His words did not change that and unless something surprising happens today, does not produce one Republican vote for the budget. And there are a number of Republican legislators, some of them in office for the longest time permitted by term limits, who have never once voted for a budget.

As one legislative employee put it to me, “If the Kiwana’s Club had to decide where and when to have a picnic by a two-thirds vote, they might not have a picnic.” That may be stretching it a bit, but it makes the point. Punishing all legislators with loss of salary (as the Governor proposed) for the inflexibility of the few doesn’t fit the “crime.” Last year the 15 Republican State Senators adopted the unit rule (no one would vote for the budget until a majority of the caucus was in favor of it) and held the budget up for a month after the Assembly had mustered the two thirds vote with sufficient Republican Assemblymembers coming on board. Reflect on that a bit—it means 8 of 15 Republican State Senators out of a 120 member legislature—could put a wrench in the works—and did so until the pressure mounted and two of these finally broke with their colleagues.

The Governor said that if the legislators were motivated that they could get a compromise in one day. Well, that still doesn’t help. Don Perata tried in vain last year, keeping the Senate in session from day through the night until the following morning, hoping to break the deadlock. All he got was talk about special interest train legislation and it didn’t work.

And this comment of the Governor’s also doesn’t change the fact that he is unable to deliver one Republican vote for the budget. One would think this would be considered part of his job description.

The Governor also bemoaned the borrowing that was part of the budget in 2003. He neglected to mention all the borrowing that has gone on under his watch—whether it was borrowing to get us out from under prior debt that he proposed and interest on the debt that has increased since he took office and on his first day eliminated what is now $6 billion in state revenue on an annual basis. He has the blue pencil and could have eliminated or reduced the state budget sent to him in each year he has been in office—and knows better now that there is a revenue problem and that cutting spending has not been that easy. The budgets he proposed in January and in the May Revision—have not been real budgets with any hope of passage—and are thought by many as attempts to shock the public more than anything else.

No one wants ownership of the mess we are in at present. And the system we have does not promote accountability. Until we change the two-thirds rule, or until we have a supermajority by one party or the other, this is likely to repeat itself.

Frank Russo

Stay tuned for what happens today.

By Frank Russo, Publisher, The California Progress Report

Originally published on The California Progress Report. Republished with permission.

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