Boxes are being packed and goodbyes said as several well-known lawmakers leave office this week. The two-year legislative session officially ended at midnight.
And it's safe to say that no departure will be more notable than that of Senate President Pro Tempore John L. Burton.
Burton always says what he thinks, whether it's clever or crass. But he also has a soft side for the issues and people he cares about... more on this Wenesday morning on The California Report.
In the meantime, here are a few parting thoughts from the final Capitol news conference of the profound... profane... and sometimes perplexing... John Burton:
On leaving office: "The only tough part about this day... is getting my stuff together. I've got a lot of stuff."
On reports of an FBI investigation into business associates of the incoming Pro Tem, Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland): "There's no reason I would second-guess Don's explanation."
On fixing California's budget problems: "We can't just hope that the economy gets, quote, better."
On possible sources of new revenue: "They could maybe be taxes, they could maybe be robbing a bank, they could maybe buy a lottery ticket. They could maybe be literally finding out almost all of the members of the Legislature have some Native American blood, we could open a casino and try to cut a deal with Governor Schwarzenegger."
On Schwarzenegger, and then some: "He gets in front of a crowd and man it's like, someone snorting up two lines of coke. He's off! Crowds are to him like it used to be fundraising calls were to Gray [Davis]."
On his own well-publicized gruffness: "I am really, despite what people think, an absolute wuss."
In a closely watched test of California's newest open government law, Proposition 59, legal advisers to Governor Schwarzegger have confirmed he will release many of the documents surrounding private meetings he has conducted while in office.
You may remember that soon after voters approved Prop 59 on November 2nd, the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) filed what's known as a Public Records Act request for access to Schwarzenegger's appointments calendar. In essence, they are attempting to test just how far Prop 59 goes in allowing more access to government documents.
In 1991, the California Supreme Court ruled that former Governor George Deukmejian's calendar was exempt from public records laws, because it was part of the "deliberative process."
But last week, Schwarzenegger told reporters he would release the records. And on Wednesday, the governor's legal affairs secretary sent a letter to the CFAC reiterating that position.
However, Legal Affairs Secretary Peter Siggins said the process would take another 35 days. He also said that certain records-- including those that pertained to the governor's security detail and to people who were interviewed for jobs with the governor-- would not be released.
Reporters will no doubt want to see exactly who Schwarzenegger met with in his first year, to try and piece together why certain policy decisions were made. And the executive director of the CFAC, Peter Scheer, says he intends to provide reporters with copies of the documents as soon as they become available.
All of that being said, Wednesday's formal response left an interesting question unanswered: do they plan to take another 35 calendar days to release the documents, or 35 business days?
The former would make the records available on December 21st... which, with the holidays in full swing, conspiracy theorists would say is the perfect time to keep the public from noticing news reports about Schwarzenegger's activities.
35 business days, on the other hand, would mean documents being made public on January 5th... right before Schwarznegger's second State of the State address.
Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said this morning that the state faces a budget deficit of $6.7 billion next year, and almost $10 billion in 2006-07.
Both are increases in her deficit projections from just a few months ago.
Hill, who is the Legislature's non-partisan budget expert, told Capitol reporters this morning that while revenues are higher than expected, so too are expenditures.
And the numbers don't get any better when Hill's team uses current budget law to project what happens for the rest of this decade. Those deficits, she predicts, would run about $9 billion a year, with a slightly smaller shortfall of about $6 billion by 2010.
The governor's advisers will surely say what they often do: that the projections assume no other changes are made-- an assumption they believe is unlikely with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the corner office.
A little-talked about deadline hovering over Governor Schwarzenegger's Sacramento housing status has led to the creation of a special foundation and may ultimately lead to a new Governor's Mansion.
Earlier this year, the governor's campaign advisers were told by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission that the "Schwarzenegger 2006" committee could pay for the governor to stay at the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento... but only for a year.
And Wednesday marks his one-year anniversary in office.
Schwarzenegger rented a suite at the Hyatt during his entire first year in office. Campaign finance records show that in the first six months of 2004, those lodgings cost almost $55,000.
The one year deadline, according to the FPPC's official advice letter, was based on federal tax guidelines about travel and lodging expenses.
This afternoon, the governor's campaign attorney Thomas Hiltachk announced the creation of the Governor's Residence Foundation of California. The non-profit group will raise money specifically for Schwarzenegger's housing needs while in Sacramento.
But the press release hints that more may be on the horizon. The foundation's mission is described as also working towards the "purchasing, constructing, furnishing, improving, repairing, operating, and maintaining the official residence for the Governor of California."
So who will run the foundation, and how public will its fundraising be? Details, according to Hiltachk, will be "forthcoming."
After years of being the state agency that credentials members of the press, the California Highway Patrol has decided to stop the practice, and has declared all of the existing credentials to be invalid.
This is the kind of a story that usually only interests people inside the news business, but I mention it here because it's an interesting example of a state agency that seems to have decided enough is enough.
A few weeks ago, recently appointed CHP Commissioner Michael Brown sent a letter to California members of the media with a valid credential (yours truly included) that said the agency was getting out of the "press pass" business.
CHP spokesman Tom Marshall says the agency was simply overwhelmed with the job of trying to determine who is-- and is not-- an actual journalist.
Marshall says this year, they've received as many as 10,000 requests for credentials. And in many cases, the credentials have been used by people who aren't journalists, trying to get access to everything from crime scenes to Disneyland. In one case, he says, someone with a CHP press pass tried to use it to get out of a southern California jail.
Marshall says the CHP may agree to endorse a credential in the future, as long as a reputable media organization (like the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio-Television News Directors Association, etc.) is actually the one issuing the document.
An interesting new analysis from the Secretary of State's office shows that when it comes to picking the winner of the presidential election, two California counties have gotten it right almost every time since 1912.
The Golden State's bellwethers are Merced County and Ventura County.
In 22 of the last 24 presidential elections, voters in Merced and Ventura have chosen the candidate that went on to win the White House. That's a track record of betting on the right horse 92% of the time. The Secretary's report attributes that success to the fact that the two major parties have almost evenly split registration in those two counties, making them more like the battlegrounds of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
But even bellwethers don't always agree when it comes to being wrong.
Voters in Merced picked the wrong man in 1968 (incorrectly choosing Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon) and in 1956 (they picked Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower). Voters in Ventura, on the other hand, picked the wrong man in 1976 (they liked Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter) and way back in 1916 (they thought Charles Evans Hughes would beat Woodrow Wilson).
Controller Steve Westly released new data today showing that state revenues are $2 billion ahead of where they were this time last year. It's good news, but likely not enough good news to solve the fiscal problems that are just around the corner.
Westly's report shows the increased cash flow comes from higher sales tax, personal income tax, and corporate tax revenues.
So what does this mean? Obviously, it's good news. But compare those numbers to the September analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst, Elizabeth Hill. Her office continues to estimate a structural deficit in 2005-2006 of $6 billion, increasing to $8 billion in 2006-2007. The LAO is scheduled to release new projections later this month.
As recent as last week, Governor Schwarzenegger admitted that the higher revenues are being outpaced by higher spending, much of it contained in formulas that are already in place.
But most budget watchers still want to know whether these higher revenues are a true sign of a recovering California economy. And Schwarzenegger is still essentially betting that a strong economy will erase the state's red ink.
"The state is doing really, really well," he said eight days ago when introducing his new Finance Director, Tom Campbell. "I am absolutely convinced, you know, that we are pulling out of this fiscal crisis."
Governor Schwarzenegger left today for his trade trip to Japan, a whirlwind 4 day excursion likely to be remembered as much for the rock star welcome he gets as it is for actual news.
(Schwarzenegger has long been a favorite in Japan... you can see some of his more unusual Japanese TV commercials at this website)
The trip will include a "Taste of California" reception, a visit with Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, and meetings with a number of business executives.
But the one thing that's hard to discern is what the trip will cost. The governor's press secretary, Margita Thompson, told reporters today which groups are responsible for picking up the tab, but would not say how much they're estimating a trip with dozens of business leaders and others will cost.
The groups footing the bill, according to Thompson: the California Protocol Foundation (reported to be a public charity, used for trips by previous governors); the California Travel and Tourism Commission; the Commission on Jobs and Economic Development (a Schwarzenegger-established group being financed by private donations); the California Department of Food & Agriculture; and the state's Business, Transportation, and Housing Authority (using private sector funds, Thompson says).
Another sign of the Schwarzenegger era of trade trips: an outside Japanese public relations firm has been hired to handle all of the Japanese media requests and interest in the visit. California media will still be dealt with by the governor's own staffers.
If you're a political junkie, you've probably heard the old saying about how political money is like water trickling through any crack it can find.
Critics say the cracks in California's Proposition 34 have turned those trickles into gushing rivers of money.
You'll remember Prop 34 passed in 2000, and was the Legislature's attempt to put a new system in place after the courts threw out Proposition 208 in 1996. But one of the criticisms of Prop 34 has always been that it wasn't really campaign finance reform.
An example: an individual donor can give more money to a candidate for the California Assembly than they can to a candidate for President of the United States.
This year, the shortcomings of Prop 34 were obvious: millions of dollars went to legislative candidates through the political parties (no limits there), and millions more were spent by PACs on independent expenditures (IEs), who also are unfettered by limits as long as they're not coordinated with individual candidate campaigns.
A review of the records shows that in some cases, the IEs that were spent on a given race were much larger than even what the candidate campaigns spent.
We'll take a look at the issue in this week's newsmagazine edition of The California Report (click here for when to catch it around the state).
UPDATE: The audio for this story is now posted on our website (just scroll down to Friday's broadcast).
At a Capitol news conference this morning, Governor Schwarzenegger announced his new director of the Department of Finance will be Tom Campbell.
The 52-year-old Republican is a familiar face in California politics, having served in the state Senate (1993-95) and the U.S. House of Representatives (1988-1993, and again from 1995-2001). The Silicon Valley politician lost to Dianne Feinstein in the race for the U.S. Senate in 2000. He has most recently been serving as dean of the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley.
Campbell already had close ties to the governor, as a member of Schwarzenegger's new Council of Economic Advisors.
But the event will likely be remembered because of the governor's final words at the news conference. When asked what he thought of comments by some Democrats that tax increases might need to be considered next year, he said "Why would I listen to losers?"
He went on to say that local tax proposals across the state were defeated on Tuesday, sending a clear signal about the intent of voters.
"The Democrats, and all of those things that they have proposed on tax increases have lost. So therefore, why would we go and follow a losing formula?"