The Legislature is in recess until January and I've enjoyed my time home, but it's been anything but a break. I've dedicated six days a week listening to constituents concerns through our community coffee program, meeting with local officials and touring businesses.
I had the privilege of speaking at the opening ceremony of the visiting Vietnam War Memorial, attending the ground breaking of the Habitat for Heroes housing project and many other notable events. I have deep concerns that my generation will leave this country and state in worse shape than we inherited it, so I've visited high school classes to encourage our future leaders to engage in the political process now.
How Sacramento operates is very different than one would read in a textbook. The lack of transparency in the legislative process is detrimental to governing and the democratic values that we claim to hold dear. We need reforms to shine sunlight on the process so the people have access to information before decisions are made.
Under current law, budget bills only have to be in print for 24-hours and regular legislation can be expedited through the “gut & amend” process. That's why I've co-authored ACA 4 which would require all bills be in print for three days before they can be voted on.
Last spring the State Assembly passed out the budget bill, AB 110, along with 35 trailer bills (which is the enabling language for each part of the budget) and sent it to the Senate. The bills contained no language!
The budget was then negotiated behind closed doors by Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. The bills were then populated with language in the Senate passed out and sent to the Assembly.
Constitutionally the Legislature must pass a budget by June 15th. On Friday, June 14th the budget bill was brought to the floor for a vote. While we were debating the bill, I decided to pull the document up on my laptop. The screen read “No document available.” The bill was so fresh it hadn't even been downloaded in the system! That means you were not able to read the bill.
Budget trailer bills can be passed at any time during the course of the budget year. Yet, Speaker Perez decided to hold a rare Saturday session to pass out the bills. I believe he took this action because he didn't want the public to have input.
I was already scheduled to hold a town hall meeting that morning in Santa Clarita regarding the chloride issue. Under law, I have to be in chamber or I can be arrested and brought back to the Capitol. Also, once session begins I am confined to the green carpet which is the Chamber, Rules Committee room and the Member's lounge. So my staff conducted a clandestine operation and we set up a laptop in the Rules Committee room and I Skyped to the Town Hall in between budget votes.
There was plenty of time for the Town Hall since Assembly Members just sat at their desks waiting for budget trailer bills to hit the 24-hour mark so they could be brought to the floor for a vote.
This is no way to govern and debate a $96.3 billion budget which sets the state's spending priorities. Budget discussions and decisions shouldn't only be reserved for the governor and majority leaders. Constituents lose a seat at the budget table because the voices they elected are not given the chance to be heard until it's too late.
Recently, the Legislative Analyst's Office announced California will have a projected budget surplus of $2 billion. While this is good news, it is crucial that we are wise stewards of those funds. A large chunk will go toward K-12 and community colleges per Prop 98, I believe the remainder should be dedicated to pay down the state's wall of debt and establish a rainy day fund.
No one should get too comfortable with the budget surplus. According to the State Auditor California's net worth is negative $127.2 billion! Holding the line on spending and promoting policies that help small business should be our priorities next year.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve you and I look forward to returning to Sacramento to continue fighting for the 38th Assembly District. I wish everyone a happy holiday season!