More than two weeks after the final collapse of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s drive to place some version of his giant infrastructure bonds package on California’s June ballot, the top leaders of the state Legislature have again begun meeting to try to craft a ballot measure for the November election.
The “Big Four,” the Democratic and Republican leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, minus the governor, met for some 90 minutes yesterday afternoon in the office of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. “We left the governor out of it because that is what he wanted,” said an advisor to one Republican participant. “We feel we can make more progress if progress there is by having talks between the two parties and the two houses instead of the governor having everyone in individually.”
Schwarzenegger’s practice of serial negotiations with all parties had, according to legislators, left them confused about who had agreed to what and when.
Sources say that there is no imminent announcement to be made. Nevertheless, there has reportedly been progress. Perata, whose proposed infrastructure bond in the $10 billion range last year predated Schwarzenegger’s public enthusiasm for a major program, is said to want more of a pared down focus to any new package. “The basics,” says one source.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, just back from Washington where he took a strong advocacy role on immigration policy in the wake of his appearance at Saturday’s enormous rally in Los Angeles to promote the rights of illegal immigrants, wants education bonds in any emerging package.
There is reportedly a sense emerging among the legislative leaders that a more focused approach to a bonds package for November would include levee repair and flood management, school construction and modernization, and transportation projects. Other late emerging items in the failed package for June, such as dams and parks, would not be included. Dams are a problem for Democrats, parks are a problem for Republicans.
There is also reportedly a sense among the leaders that the concerns of Assembly Republicans, always the key to getting any deal under California’s super-majority two-thirds vote requirement, must be addressed. Their concerns include some relaxation of environmental regulations and labor law requirements. The formula to address this without going too far for the Democratic majority is not yet apparent.
So there has been some progress. Sources say that the leaders hope to have a plan together in the next week. Given that it would have to be vetted and worked through the respective party caucuses in both houses of the Legislature, that seems wise. Because not long after the budget process, always interesting in an election year, begins.
What about the governor? Sources all around, including around the former action superstar, say he will be glad to sign pretty much whatever the Legislature comes up with.
“He shined the light on infrastructure,” says one Arnold friend. “He got the public interested as you see in the PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) poll so he deserves the credit he will get for what they come up with.”
Left unmentioned is that Arnold would love to run for re-election this fall with a popular bipartisan infrastructure bonds package on the ballot with him. Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democratic candidate for governor positioned as the “anti-Arnold,” always wanted any bonds package on the June ballot for that reason. The other Democratic candidate, Controller Steve Westly, who worked with Arnold on the debt recovery bonds and opposed him in the special election, doesn’t seem to care.