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Winners and Losers in Last-Minute Legislative Rush

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The California legislature opens each session with a whimper, and its budgets are rarely if ever balanced, but it does end with a bang.

    The flurry of last-minute legislation that was approved late Friday is still being digested.

    Gov. Jerry Brown has a month to decide whether to sign the bills. In the meantime, the session’s end offers an opportunity to tally up the winners and losers.

    WINNERS:

    - Gov. Brown

    Media reports focused on how unions sent him bills that will force him to choose between the Democratic base and his allies in the business community.

    Brown also failed to get his corporate tax package – touted inaccurately as a “jobs” package -- through the legislature.

    But the good outweighed the bad. Brown scored political points by getting two Republicans to support his package – which still isn’t dead. (It could be revived in a special session).

    More significant, Brown used the momentum of a bid to build a football stadium in Los Angeles to enhance his own power over development.

    Legislation gave Brown, and future governors, the power to exempt certain large developments from the state’s signature environmental law. And one big job for governors is to protect, and enhance, their power.

    - Los Angeles -- or San Diego

    Depending on what you think about football and football stadiums, one of these cities won (and one lost).

    Legislation exempting a downtown LA football project from environmental reviews clears the way for a stadium to go forward provided a team could be found.

    That team is likely to be the San Diego Chargers.

    So if you love football and don’t mind the hassles of having a stadium downtown, Los Angeles is a winner.

    If you don’t care for football – or if you’re a football fan who would merely be frustrated watching the perpetually underachieving Chargers – San Diego may be the winner.

    -Labor

    A host of labor-friendly legislation made it through the Democratic legislature, including several bills that had been previously vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Brown may veto some too, but labor unions are certainly better off now than they were a year ago.

    If Brown signs a bill moving all ballot initiatives – including two opposed by labor – from the June ballot to a November ballot that should attract more liberal voters, labor may emerge as the session’s biggest winner.

    LOSERS

    -Amazon

    The company spent millions gathering signatures for a referendum, then surrendered, agreeing to start collecting taxes in a year.

    Along the way, the online retailer alienated people across the political spectrum in Sacramento. More on the disaster that is Amazon’s relationship with California here.

    -Initiative Reform

    California’s initiative process is at once inflexible (mistakes can’t be easily fixed, and initiatives don’t have to play by budget rules) and inaccessible (only rich people and groups can use it).

    Reform is desperately needed. But Democrats pushed “reforms” that – with a few notable exceptions – did nothing to make the process more flexible – and imposed limits that will make the process even more inaccessible.

    Brown vetoed some of the worst ideas. But in the ham-handedness, Democrats may have sabotaged the prospects for real initiative reform.

    Republicans. The party effectively staved off tax increases. But the GOP further isolated itself in the process. Its members missed an opportunity to get deeper reforms in state governance – not only because of poor negotiating strategy but also because the party hasn’t done any serious thinking about how to save the state or the party itself.

    There’s a huge opening for the GOP to trade away its 2/3 leverage for a new election system that gives the party the chance to take back power. But California Republicans don’t recognize the opportunity, and seem afraid of new reform ideas.

    Too bad.

    The once-proud California GOP is such a consistent losers that they might be called the LA Clippers of politics.

    (Above photo illustration by Olsen Ebright)

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