When the Legislature was drafting its massive water plan, it included a number of specific appropriations as political lubricants.
It did not, however, include funds for analysis of the Capitol’s own supply of drinking water, thereby denying us an opportunity to discover whether it contains a mysterious germ that compels legislative leaders to do really dumb things.
Recent polls indicate that California voters hold the Legislature in immense disdain, with approval ratings just barely above single digits. One would think, therefore, that its leaders would bend over backward to avoid doing things that would generate even more animus.
Instead, they continue to throw fuel on the public’s red-hot anger, such as the water bond provision that was inserted at the behest of Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate. With no public notice or hearings, the bill was amended to provide $10 million for Steinberg’s pet project, a “unity center” in Sacramento that has absolutely nothing to do with water.
Steinberg at first defended the earmark by claiming a right to “use the power I have to further civil rights and to further California history in any way….”
But where Steinberg saw moral authority, others saw personal pork, and passage of the bond bill was almost derailed in the Assembly after The Bee reported the earmark and he was compelled to remove it from the measure. Actually, The Bee did Steinberg a favor because if the bill had been signed into law with that provision intact, it would have handed opponents a powerful weapon to defeat the bond issue at the polls.
It was not, however, an isolated incident. Thanks largely to reporting by The Bee’s Jim Sanders, a steady stream of equally maladroit actions by legislative leaders has been exposed, such as Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’ decision to give hefty salary increases to more than 100 staffers despite a massive state budget deficit and furloughs of state civil service workers.
Bass rescinded the action as soon as Sanders’ story was published, but it was potent ammunition for opponents of budget-related ballot measures that she, Steinberg and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were trying to pass and the measures were shot down.
A third big screw-up happened when the chief clerks of the two legislative houses – insisting, incredibly, that they were acting on their own – asked Attorney General Jerry Brown to rule on the legality of an 18 percent cut in legislators’ pay that had been decreed by the California Citizens Compensation Commission.
With millions of Californians unemployed, millions seeing income cuts and the state budget gushing red ink, the request tells voters that lawmakers don’t want to share their pain.
There must be something in the Capitol’s drinking fountains. It just can’t be true that Steinberg, Bass, et al. are really as tone-deaf as their actions imply.