Welcome back, Legislature. Man, don't we all feel rested?
Per the state constitution, today marks the convening of a brand new two-year session of the California Legislature, where more than two dozen rookies join seasoned vets under the Capitol dome for work on... what else... a budget crisis.
If the issue wasn't front and center on its own, Governor Schwarzenegger put it there by declaring a fiscal emergency -- the second of his tenure, and a power given to him under 2004's Proposition 58) and by calling the new Legislature into special session, which runs concurrently with the regular session that began today.
(A sidenote: Schwarzenegger made the announcement in Los Angeles, after his private jet was grounded by fog here in Sacramento. While some in the press may wonder why the public doesn't understand the problem, perhaps we might want to look at ourselves; at least one LA reporter could be heard asking the guv just what a "fiscal emergency" is and how it works.)
It's hard to call any of what happened today at the state Capitol truly different; in my conversations with a few new legislators this morning (more on that tomorrow on The California Report), it was clear that the political battle lines seem pretty much intact.
And yet, there are small sprinklings of a new approach. One was found in today's announcement that the budget committee in the Senate will now consist of all 40 senators, a "committee of the whole," as it were. That decision was announced by new Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
"We all own the problem," he said in his floor speech this afternoon. "Let's have the institution begin acting like it."
Steinberg also called on legislators to complete their budget negotiations in 2009 by May 15. "Let's use the [governor's] May revise not as the beginning point of budget negotiations," he said. Steinberg further challenged lawmakers to strike deals on several thorny issues, from water supply protection to renewable energy, in the first 120 days of the session.
And back to the budget... Assembly Speaker Karen Bass says she wants to convene a joint session so that the state's financial experts can discuss the budget crisis with all 120 legislators in more detail.
Meantime, the governor threw some water on one idea that's been getting a lot of ink lately: asking the feds for money to solve the state's fiscal woes. Schwarzenegger is expected to travel to Philadelphia tomorrow for an event featuring President-elect Barack Obama; but it doesn't sound like he'll be asking for cash.
"I would never ask the federal government to help us before we straighten out our own mess," he said today.