Speaker Perez: Fix Water Bond. And More.

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"There are superfluous projects that are included in that water bond," says Assembly Speaker John Perez. (File Photo: Getty/Justin Sullivan)

As the Legislature returns to Sacramento, the leader of the lower house is sounding confident but cautious on some of the more challenging issues in year ahead.

And so the headlines from an interview with Assembly Speaker John Perez in his Capitol office: shrink November's massive state water bond, keep high speed rail on track, be cautious on the budget, find an alternative to local redevelopment agencies.

Perez was unswayed but nonetheless circumspect on the ever growing debate over high-speed rail. The Los Angeles Democrat called the $98 billion project a "unique opportunity," but acknowledged that the Legislature needs to take a close look at the plans -- an examination that will determine whether to give the green light to the first of almost $10 billion in voter-approved state bonds.

"If it doesn't pencil out, then we're not going to move forward," he said.

Speaker Perez is less enamored with the $11 billion water bond slated to appear on the November ballot (which has actually been delayed once, originally designed for the statewide ballot in the fall of 2010).

"$11 billion is, I think, higher than voters would be willing to support right now," said Speaker Perez. "And there are superfluous projects that are included in that water bond that would be nice to have, but aren't crucial."

Perez cited water storage as the key need, and blamed the need for a supermajority vote on a bond measure as the reason that the package became too large. Of course, it also takes a two-thirds vote to either delay the water bond or rework it for 2012. Early signs on bipartisanship are good; Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway said today she's also willing to take a second look at the issue.

A second look will also no doubt be taken at the issue of local economic development in the wake of the California Supreme Court ruling that abolishes more than 400 local redevelopment agencies next month. Speaker Perez dismissed any notion that actual RDAs will be recreated by the Legislature; instead, he emphasized the need for ways to promote job creation and economic stimulus that doesn't favor one region over another. And he suggested that the scrapping of RDAs could reignite his the effort of many Democrats to revise the state's enterprise zone program.

One of 2012's most potent issues is likely to be fought first -- and foremost -- between Democrats: changes to public employee pensions. Organized labor was less than thrilled with the proposal unveiled in October by Governor Jerry Brown. And the Assembly speaker chose his words carefully when discussing Brown's proposal.

The "thematics" of the governor's plan are "strong and solid," said Perez. "The details have to be worked out."

While Speaker Perez pointed to Brown's inclusion of an end to techniques like pension "spiking" as good ones, he did not mention items like the governor's call for a hybrid pension/401k-type plan for future workers. Still, he agreed with the conventional political wisdom that the Legislature needs to show progress on the issue. Many believe it could be a key part of any successful initiative campaign to raise taxes.

And on that nascent effort, Perez was optimistic that voters of all stripes -- well, namely GOP voters -- will see the need for the additional revenues.

"We're not going to get Republican legislators to vote for revenues. I think we'll get Republican citizens to vote."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Munoz

    Fuck you Perez you wetback

  • Jrs2248

    You won’t get my vote Mr. Perez..