Much has been written about perhaps the wildest last night of the legislative session ever.
For those who weren’t paying attention, all but one Republican senator was quarantined when Sen. Brian Jones tested positive for COVID-19 a few days prior, forced to vote remotely. This prolonged the Senate’s work on legislation.
Faced with the clock running out at midnight without time to vote on several key Democratic measures, the Senate’s majority party tried to limit debate. This resulted in a huge firestorm and a GOP senator was even caught cursing in a “hot mic” moment.
Not as front and center was the simmering tension between Senate and Assembly Democrats. In the hijinks of the last day of session, several key measures authored by Senate Democrats were either blocked on the Assembly floor or never taken up for a vote before the midnight deadline, including major housing legislation authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and several police reform measures.
Another last night of session victim was a key provision of the so-called economic stimulus plan proposed by Senate Democrats.
Senate Bill 815 would have taken the first steps to implement their tax voucher scheme by “requir(ing) the Franchise Tax Board, in consultation with the Treasurer and the Department of Finance to develop a comprehensive plan” by March 1, according to a Senate analysis. Legislators would have to vote again to enact whatever they come up with. Lawmakers essentially were punting on the details for now, tasking state officials to figure out how their scheme could work.
According to Bloomberg News, “the plan would accelerate $25 billion in tax revenue they would use immediately to help small businesses, working families, and the green economy.”
As I wrote previously, the tax voucher plan is part of an economic stimulus plan that is “high on spending, light on stimulus,” prioritizing new “green” spending including more electric car subsidies. Very little of this new spending would help communities struggling economically.
And it could pave the way for more long-term budget pain. PRI’s Wayne Winegarden cautioned state lawmakers in Forbes that, “instead of attempting to regain fiscal solvency through budget gimmicks, states should turn to fundamental fiscal reforms (both large and small) in order to create long-term fiscally sustainable budgets.”
California just emerged from paying off what former Gov. Jerry Brown called the “wall of debt”, or the billions in gimmicks embraced by lawmakers in the late 2000’s to put off making tough budget choices. The Democrat plan would put California on track to return to this type of irresponsible budgeting that caused years of budget pain.
Even Chris Hoene of the liberal California Budget and Policy Center cautioned in an interview with Bloomberg News that, “(the Democratic plan) seems like a workaround to avoid more difficult political discussions.”
Fortunately, California taxpayers were spared all of this thanks to the Democratic infighting. Senate Bill 815 was never taken up for a vote before the Assembly adjourned in the early morning hours of September 1.
I hesitate to call this a victory for taxpayers. It’s really more of a delay of the day of reckoning. You can be sure that Democrats will revisit their plan once the new legislative session convenes in December. Depending on what happens with the Prop. 15 split roll tax increase measure on the November ballot – a projected $12 billion annual tax hike, their proposal may take on added urgency as they seek new revenue to prop up their shaky 2020-21 state budget.
And perhaps they’ll take the extra time of the next few months to figure out how it would all work, too.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.