Wednesday, October 7, 2009


During the last session, the Legislature worked diligently on big issues, including renewable energy, balancing the budget, and water. Unfortunately, the governor has done little to move the ball forward on these issues, other than to issue demands and now, to tell the Legislature, “vote yes--or else.”

Now, he has taken 700 bills hostage in an attempt to force a deal on a water bond benefiting some Californians, but paid for by all Californians. Something is very wrong with this picture.

The Legislature is keenly aware of the urgency of the crisis faced by agriculture, fisheries, and communities dependent on the Delta for their drinking water. During the final days of session, the Legislature came very close to passing 2 bills on water, both of which it continues to work on. One bill would set substantive policy for the Delta; the second bill would put a water bond on the ballot for voters to consider.

As complicated as the substantive policy is, the funding is just as problematic. The proposed general obligation bond for dams and conveyances burdens the state’s already over-stretched General Fund by $780 million annually. In a year when we cut billions of dollars from the state’s General Fund, decimated state services, nearly closed state parks, furloughed state employees and backed away from the state’s long-standing commitment to higher education, adding another $780 million annually to finance bond costs is fiscally irresponsible. We need the governor’s help to identify better ways to pay for this.

On October 5, the governor suggested to the Senate President Pro Tem that the Legislature withdraw nearly 700 bills now on his desk awaiting signature. The clear inference is that if they are not withdrawn, the governor will make good his threat to veto them because he has not yet gotten his way on water.

The veto power overrides the work of the Legislature which represents the will of the people. It is an extraordinary power and should not be exercised capriciously or casually. This governor, however, has repeatedly abused his veto power and threatens to do it again.

Last year, the Governor vetoed over 400 bills, 136 of them with a generic veto message, because he was unhappy after protracted budget negotiations.

Soon after, the state saw an unprecedented drop in General Fund revenues and we were forced to make billions of dollars in painful cuts to services. Public hearings were held, the Big Five met, an agreement was reached with the governor, and was passed by the Legislature. The governor promptly vetoed funding for several programs, including domestic violence shelters and HIV/AIDS prevention. A lawsuit is pending to challenge the legality of these vetoes. Legal or not, these vetoes violated the agreement between the governor and the Legislature, put the safety of many Californians at risk, and jeopardized the public's trust in the governor.

In September, the governor gave Californians another taste of how far he would go. He asked the Legislature to withdraw all bills pending on his desk so that he could evaluate what had or had not passed before deciding whether to sign or veto bills. The Legislature did not withdraw Assemblymember Cook’s AB 264, a unanimously passed bill to honor Vietnam veterans. He then vetoed the bill out of spite.

This brings us to the governor’s most recent threat to veto the bills currently on his desk. Like last year, many of the bills threatened by the governor save the state money during this dire recession. Some correct flaws in existing law or make life easier for Californians. All of them deserve serious consideration. Yet he threatens to veto them without regard to their merits because he hasn’t yet gotten exactly what he wants on water right now. Vote “yes” on the water bill—or else.

Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico has announced that he's writing to the Attorney General, urging him to investigate the governor's use of intimidation to influence legislation as a form of extortion. Whether the governor’s clumsy attempt at hostage-taking is illegal remains to be seen. It may constitute misconduct and, at minimum, is an abuse of his executive powers at the expense of all Californians.

Instead of bullying, now is the time California needs its governor to step up to the plate and work cooperatively with the Legislature to find ways to solve our water problems without mortgaging our future.