The California Legislature got out of town on Thursday, and just in time for some members who may be looking over their shoulders for the sheriff or a grand jury. The lawmakers left the floors of the Senate and the Assembly littered with unfinished state business amid the political bloodstains. And, as usual, the governor gets the last word. In the case of many worthy bills that dare to spend even minimum amounts of new money, the governor’s word will be veto . That is roughly half the vocabulary of Gov. George Deukmejian when it comes to forward-looking legislative initiatives. The other is no .
The 1987-88 session of the Legislature thus has ended on a particularly dispiriting and unproductive note. In the final days, lawmakers were in turmoil over an FBI probe into potential vote-selling. Even without that distraction, the Assembly chugged along on about half its usual number of cylinders this year because of constant efforts to topple Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco. Democratic senators and the governor battled for months over the appointment of a state treasurer, and the office still remains vacant.
All the Assembly members and half the senators now go forth to seek reelection, presumably running on the record. Many of them will win reelection by virtue of promising again not to raise taxes and to achieve virtually nothing else, except perhaps special legislation to benefit friends and big campaign contributors. These are some of the officeholders who seem content to preside over the decline of California so long as they preserve their own seats--and hides.
There are many honest, conscientious members of the Legislature who put in long hours trying to make California a better state in which to earn a living, to raise a family and to enjoy life. Their considerable achievements should not be overlooked. But their efforts constantly have been undermined by contention and division within legislative ranks. With the Legislature divided into various factions, it has been easy for the governor to dominate--particularly on any matters dealing with money.
Money just happens to be the most important commodity that the Legislature deals with. The annual state budget is the blueprint for meeting state needs and preparing California for the demands of the future. California has worked under the considerable handicap this year of a billion-dollar budget shortfall that resulted in part from faulty estimates of revenue coming into the state under the reformed tax structure.
The annual budget battle was not settled until early Thursday, 2 1/2 months after the usual dead-line. Since the governor refused to accept any-thing that even faintly resembled a tax increase, even in the face of a fiscal crisis, California again is forced to do more with less. Just one result is that the state will fall two more years behind in building and maintaining an adequate transportation system.
After the election and when the Legislature reorganizes in December, perhaps there will be a new beginning. That will take a mixture of strong leadership and political courage that has been lacking in Sacramento in recent years, but something must change. California cannot afford another legislative session like this one.