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California: Budget Woes, Stunned Republicans, New Governor

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Aired 11/15/10

We get an update on the special legislative session to deal with the state's lingering budget deficit; the transition of Jerry Brown into the governorship and the future of the California Republican Party.

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State Capitol in  Sacramento, California.
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Above: State Capitol in Sacramento, California.

Early next month, new and old lawmakers will meet for another special budget session to deal with a lingering deficit; Governor-elect Jerry Brown prepares to work with a California legislature that's very different than the one he left in the early '80s; and California Republicans are still trying to figure out what happened.

Guest: John Myers,

Sacramento Bureau Chief, The California Report.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you are listening to These Days on KPBS. California legislators have been taking a couple weeks to decompress after the election but the work is hardly over. Early next month new and old lawmakers will meet for another special budget session. Meanwhile Gov. elect Jerry Brown prepares to work with the California legislature which is very different from the one he left in the very early 80s and California Republicans are still trying to figure out what happened. Here with an update from the state capital is John Myers. He's Sacramento bureau chief for the California Report. John, good morning

JOHN MYERS: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a special session of the legislature to deal with a shortfall of about $6 billion for this budget year. Tell us who uncovered the deficit and how much it is in its entirety.

JOHN MYERS: Well of course deficit, the word deficit seems to be the word we never get rid of at the state capital over the last few years. This projection comes from a legislative analyst at the, a nonpartisan legislative analyst who crunches numbers among other things here. The overall number I should say that they project the problem for the state budget is $25 billion. About 6 billion of that as you referenced is in the fiscal year that runs until July 1 and the remaining 19 billion is in the 2011, 2012 fiscal year which begins on July 1. Now the thing that's really amazing about this remember this is the latest budget enacted in state history, and after just over a month ago and already the budget is 6 billion out of whack according to the legislative analyst. And that is a number at least for now that we are thinking that legislators are going to have to resolve when they come back here in December and we should say new legislature, several members in the assembly and Senate are brand-new, just elected, will be sworn in on December 6 and handed a special session from the outgoing governor called special to fix the budget.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The point you make the governor is not new, why a special session with the outgoing governor, why not wait until Jerry Brown takes office.

JOHN MYERS: That's a great question and the question asked in a lot of circles. Gov. Schwarzenegger has essentially said that it is irresponsible to weekend the problems are so bad that they should be rolling up their sleeves now even as he's packing up his boxes and about to move out of his office in the state capital. There's a fairly strong sense here that there's going to be a lot of reticence to actually act on Gov. Schwarzenegger's special session until Jerry Brown is sworn in the first week of January for a couple reasons but the main reason is that I think the Democrats are the majority in the legislature feel as though they would rather sit down and crafty response to the fiscal problem with the new government, with a Democratic governor, with a slightly different set of priorities than Arnold Schwarzenegger has had. I think there's going to be disagreement about whether it's all cuts and whether you make the cuts immediately and frankly Gov. Schwarzenegger and some of his vetoes of bullet budget elements just earlier in October vetoed significantly more spending than Democrats wanted including a veto subsidized child care for welfare to work recipients. That's tied up in courts right now but it is an example I think of why Democrats say it will look we don't want to get into this with Gov. Schwarzenegger. We had enough of that we will wait till the new guy gets in.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, you make the point that the new budget be very very overdue budget is just over a month old now we have to make a correction to the newly minted budget, why does that seem to happen all the time? Why all these budget adjustments.

JOHN MYERS: First of all the budget adjustment was so late, what happens when the budget is signed late is a lot of your money-saving options start to erode, for example if you are looking at a program that you want to reduce spending and normally would reduce the monthly amount over a 12 month. By the time the fiscal year is already three months old you've lost the ability to save some of that money. That's part of it and I think also to effect a tremendous number of budgets seems like with awfully rosy some would say completely unrealistic assumptions about revenue in and the legislative analysts point out in this analysis a prime example is budgets assumed a site in October and assume about $6 billion in help from the federal government while the legislative analysts said we don't think so we think it's going to be closer than 3,000,000,000 to 3,000,000,000 and don't forget we ever Republican led House of Representatives right now which may be not so willing as the democratically controlled House of Representatives to give us assistance in California so I think of these factors really go to budgets that are not only late but budgets that are not well crafted and I think that also symptomatic of the partisan disagreement we have here of actually looking for real solutions. You can't look find them so you look for a lot of gimmicks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with John Myers. He's Sacramento bureau chief for the California report and we are getting update on what going on in Sacramento. He said there's a possibility that the Democrats in the assembly and the California legislature will not want to work with the outgoing governor. So is the incoming governor Jerry Brown's transition team, how do they feel about this plan for a special session to try to revise the budget?

JOHN MYERS: We're going to find out a lot about that either today or the next coming days. Gov. elect Brown took a week off last week after the campaign. His transition began before that. He's been up here meeting with the legislative leaders before the agreement with the state Department of finance folks who work for the governor usually getting some updates on numbers. The statement they put out last week after Gov. Schwarzenegger to declare that the special session is that they realize the problem is serious. This is symptomatic of that but they also pointed out that the governor elect Brown did not create the mess. I think you're going to hear that a lot from Jerry Brown especially when he comes into office when he starts putting solutions forward, a message of look I didn't create it but I'm trying to find a way out of it and Gov. Schwarzenegger said that Gov. elect Brown is supportive of the special session. We haven't heard back from the governor elect yet but I can promise you there will be a few reporters on the governor is up your next we turn to ask a question.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jerry Brown made a lot during his campaign on his experience as a former governor of California to get in there and solve the problems of Sacramento put on one of Georgia blog posts, John, you made the point of saying how many things have changed in the Legislature since Jerry Brown left office in the early 80s. Tell us about that.

JOHN MYERS: Yeah, it feels like he played off of the notion that Jerry Brown during the campaign said it will have been up in the kitchen up there in Sacramento before, I know how things work in my extension of that was there are a lot of dirty dishes and the appliances don't work and some of them frankly don't get used every day of the week. There are an enormous number of things that have changed about the budgeting process since 1983. First and foremost the landmark proposition 13 limitation on taxes and also the way the budget operates with the threshold for approving tax increases, that had only been in place a few years when brown blessed. the full effects of prop 13 had not been felt. Five years after brown left voters approved a mandate on school spending, proposition 98. That has a tremendous impact on the budget process, then there are a number of other controls on borrowing from local government, taxes that have been raised that are earmarked for things like early childhood development, for mental health services. This will complicate the budget process (inaudible) from voters but they were not there when gov. brown was there. and last but not least the state is much bigger, the population is larger and i think politics is much more confrontational and frankly things are much more divisive than they were in the 80s.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Has the governor given any indication on how is going to try to govern?

JOHN MYERS: Well, in the campaign where he said he wants to change the tenor, the dialogue the way things you want to happen I want to change the consensus we don't know what that would give me and I think that's going to be the main thing to watch in 2011 is what does the new governor do, what can he do about that. He says he wants to meet with Democrats and Republicans, the old adage is to roll up your sleeves, get down to work but that really remains to be seen. Think at some point Gov. Brown is going to have to, or governor elect Brown is going to have to weigh in on exactly what he sees being the path forward and really the key time for that for people to watch is the first week of January. He takes office in the first days of January, within a week he has to propose a state budget to the legislature and that's where he will see those priorities. He's making those decisions we should say here before the end of the year so it December he has to make a lot of decisions are going to the document and its the print that goes out to the public in January.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Speaking of postmortems, there's a good one of your blog posts John Myers that puts Steve Cooley is the winner in the attorney general race. Republicans were shut out of all statewide races. What are some of the theories that are going around as to why that happened?

JOHN MYERS: (Inaudible) is behind right now we should point out again to the boycott has been back-and-forth whether Pamela Harris the district attorney was ahead for the race in San Francisco. So you are right if Cooley loses there will be a complete shadow that happened in 2002 as well the Democrats remedy above all statewide elected offices. You know this is going to be a tough time of soul-searching for the California Republican Party there was a lot of talk that the ticket was really competitive. They were diverse. You had a few women, an African-American, a Latino. By and large the voters here in California did not join in on the red tide that we saw around the country. I think one thing is a couple things in particular change there's a feeling that the party has not done enough to reach out to what the government and public really believes in. First and foremost, has been the issue of immigration. The party has come across them or to the right of where the mainstream California is pretty one diehard official of the state party told me the story I worked on last week that we just found some to mean sometimes on illegal immigration and also sometimes I think there's a feeling that the party hasn't done enough to reach out to independents. They are the fastest-growing group of California voters predicted to be fiscally conservative but again not so socially conservative and Arnold Schwarzenegger even said that to his party a few years ago you said you have to reach out to independents, we are dying at the box office to use Schwarzenegger's terms and we are at the lowest level in registered republicans since at least the early 1990s and that's very tough to overcome on election day.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Speaking specifically about Meg Whitman's campaign for governor of California is there an indication that people were turned off by the huge amount of money that she spent on her campaign?

JOHN MYERS: The trouble with the gubernatorial race at this point is we're all sort of looking at tea leaves trying to figure out what going on but most people but I do believe it was a combination of . Not so much that she was completely independently wealthy and spent all that money but kind of all of that messaging of the campaign again we did have a very nasty fight on illegal immigration in the primary but I think going over to the general election and what is the issue of her housekeeper which was difficult as well and then of course there was a feeling that she was parroting a lot of the campaign rhetoric over Schwarzenegger. She had the same political staff on hand. But I think in the final analysis a lot of people feel as though she did not come and this is from Republicans I should say that she did not do enough to help the rest of the ticket and sometimes you can see that whatever the marquee races for governor, Senate, those races can have a tremendous impact on races for state insurance commissioner, state treasurer, controller. At a certain point people start to mark all the way down the ballot if they feel strongly about the person at the top and Meg Whitman didn't make the case to the voters.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Finally since California voters decided to keep and expand that new redistricting committee and that's going to be forming here in California highest year that there is a milestone in the process coming up this Friday. Tell us about that.

JOHN MYERS: Yeah, this is going to be really interesting to watch (inaudible) made this week but really through 2011 that's when political maps are drawn and the new census data all the way across the country this happens but in California we have this independent citizens commission that will draw political maps that we created through prop 11 and the power to draw Congressional districts just a few weeks ago at the election. This Thursday the first members of that commission will be selected. The first eight of the 14 member commission will be selected. This is after a very long process that had upwards of 30,000 applicants at one point. So you're going to have Democrats, Republicans and people outside the two major parties. They will finish picking the rest of the commission by the end of the year but really watch this in 2011. They will hold public hearings, they will have more transparency than ever happened before when the legislature to these maps often in private and I think you're going to see a lot of discussion about exactly how California should be represented, where legislative districts should be, Congressional districts. An interesting process, people think it's a little arcane but these are the maps that will be in place for 10 years about who represents Californians and how they are represented in Sacramento and Washington.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Fabulous. Thank you so much John for all this information. I appreciate it. I've been speaking with John Myers. He is Sacramento bureau chief for the California Report. Stay with us because coming up we'll have a sports update. You are listening to These Days on KPBS.

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