The voters' splitting of power between Democrats and Republicans was marked not just in Washington this week. Californians, who returned Republican Pete Wilson to the governorship two years ago, put the Democrats back in control of the Assembly on Tuesday. Gone is Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) as speaker of the Assembly. That job will go to a legislator in the Democratic Party, which already rules the Senate.
But these are merely the partisan intramurals. The big challenge for the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature will come in forging a strong bipartisan effort to resolve tough issues confronting the state.
Welfare reform presents the most daunting--and potentially disruptive--change for California. Under the new federal welfare law, the state must devise a system of public assistance and put 50% of its welfare population into jobs over the next five years or risk being hit with $185 million in yearly penalties, a sum that could increase for each year of noncompliance. A recovering California economy will generate 300,000 new jobs annually, but even that is not enough at a time when the state unemployment rate is at about 7% and most of the 1 million people looking for work are not on welfare. The private sector will not be able to provide all the jobs. Sacramento needs to come up with plans to help welfare recipients fulfill work requirements.
Various initiatives pose other challenges. Passage of Proposition 209, which ends affirmative action in state and local government hiring, contracting and schools, has unleashed litigation and mixed signals. Wilson promptly issued an executive order to state agencies to identify programs that would be subject to 209. In the meantime, lawsuits were promptly filed both to block and to push implementation of a law that would cause California many headaches.
Clarification will also be needed in regard to Proposition 215, which permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes--something that federal law prohibits. Thorny legal and law enforcement issues surround the measure.
The Legislature and the governor must come to terms with the huge new burdens put on local governments by the passage of Proposition 218, which imposes onerous limits on local government ability to raise money for fire suppression, some police services, libraries, parks and the like; the initiative establishes difficult standards of voter approval for existing and future projects. Sacramento, now flush with revenues, should help solve the problem by restoring property tax revenues to local governments.
Defeat of Propositions 214 and 216 made sense, but the health care issues that spawned the two measures nevertheless warrant the Legislature's attention. For example, shouldn't managed care companies be required to disclose the guidelines given to their doctors?
Voters sensibly decided in favor of realistic limits on campaign contributions by approving Proposition 208 and defeating Proposition 212, which would have gutted the existing 1990 Ethics in Government Act and lifted restrictions on honorariums, gifts and travel.
Californians can hope that when the Legislature reconvenes it will put more energy into resolving these issues than into political power struggles.