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The Legislative Signs Can Be Confusing

It was a good sign--the Capitol’s two most important Democrats agreeing on something Wednesday as the Legislature trotted into the frenzied final 10 days of its 1993 session.

But at a news conference arranged to announce their agreement, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) stood up his Senate counterpart, President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys). And that was not a good sign.

Roberti waited 15 minutes for Brown, then began the news conference himself, flanked by a handful of rank-and-file lawmakers and the inevitable trite charts for TV cameras. He announced that compromises had been reached on a modest package of bills aimed at helping California communities convert military bases into civilian enterprises.

One could read too much into the Brown no-show. Although he and Roberti often are adversaries--Brown opposes Roberti’s attempt to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District and the senator opposes the Speaker’s proposed sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment--no-shows are not unheard of for Brown. And annoying tardiness is routine.

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In this case, said Brown chief-of-staff Mike Galizio, “he had a meeting that lasted longer than expected. He’s booked pretty solid and unfortunately doesn’t get to everything he needs to.”

Still, the confusion of the trumpeted event seemed to symbolize the windup of this legislative session, which offers the potential of providing meaningful help for Californians trying to recover from recession, but also could deteriorate into another disappointing half-effort by lawmakers. And it again raised questions about the Brown-Roberti relationship, which must be a good one for the Legislature to succeed.

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One thing is clear: The record--the real record--that Gov. Pete Wilson must run on for reelection next year will be written in no small part by the Legislature in the next 10 days. Election-year politics will dominate the 1994 session and the Republican governor is not likely to achieve much then from the Democratic-controlled body.

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Likewise, the controversial Brown’s legacy as he approaches the end of his speakership can be enhanced by delivering on the business climate improvements he tacitly promised during his highly publicized economic summit conference last February in Los Angeles.

Roberti also is looking for achievements as he prepares to step down as Senate leader--most likely in January--and probably run for state treasurer.

Then there are all those new legislators--29 of them--who ran for election on promises to end gridlock in Sacramento.

For all these politicians--from the governor and legislative leaders on down to the rookies--the next 10 days is the time to produce.

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This already is one of the most productive legislative sessions in years, if for no other reason than that the Capitol delivered a state budget on time. It also enacted a long-promised reform of the scandal-ridden workers’ compensation system, a step demanded by the business community. And the housing industry was given a potential boost when Brown and Assembly Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga teamed to create a mortgage insurance fund for first-time home buyers.

The bipartisan package of defense conversion bills also could be good for the Legislature’s resume. Among other things, it would create a Defense Conversion Council to plan, coordinate, make grants and dig for federal dollars. “In the long run,” Roberti said, “these bills may be even more important to California’s economic recovery than the workers’ compensation reform package. These certainly will stand as one of the Legislature’s three or four principal achievements of this year.”

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But bigger bills are in legislative limbo.

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Brown’s measure to exempt the state sales tax on manufacturing equipment--as 42 other states do--is bottled up in a Senate committee. Key Democrats are pushing for investment tax credits instead, contending this is a better way to guarantee that the tax breaks will be used for job creation. The consensus is there’s a 50-50 chance of some bill passing.

There is less optimism about sweeping legislation to reform the cumbersome California Environmental Quality Act, which business despises. Democrats are leery of tampering with any environmental protections.

The betting is that other bills will be passed to modestly reduce regulatory red tape.

Meanwhile, as the Capitol wrestles with scores of complex economic recovery proposals, the governor is a no-show all week. He’s out of state on vacation, betting that nothing will be decided here until the last minute.

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