Political Inside Game, Outside Game... All in One Day

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You don't get many political multi-tasking days like this one: heated debate over legislation down to its final day to survive, a new alarm over the state's finances, and public disclosure of all the campaign cash raised by candidates and campaigns in 2011.


Billable Hours: While there was a lot of drama over the big deadline for some interesting legislation on Tuesday, it was also a little overwrought. After all, these were merely bills left over from 2011 -- 2012 bills are still being introduced at a healthy clip -- and even then, pet projects in the Legislature have a way of reemerging in the final hours of a two year session, which will be coming up on August 31.

And yet, there were some intense moments over the last two days. Tops on that list certainly has to be the seemingly-all-but-dead AB 327, the bill seeking to modify the three strikes sentencing law. Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-LA) saw his bill come up short on Monday, only to ask for reconsideration (a do-over in less technical terms) on Tuesday.

After the day before's long and impassioned debate, a number of assemblymembers rose Tuesday to say the bill didn't need to be rehashed, only to then... yes... rehash it. Democrats largely argued the original 1994 initiative counts too many less-than-serious crimes as a "strike," while Republicans countered that the law generally works as it is. AB 327 would place the amendment on the November 2014 ballot; a similar change to the three strikes law may be on this fall's ballot, and so if it ultimately clears the state Capitol AB 327 may be more of a backstop if the 2012 initiative either fails to make the ballot or is rejected by voters.

AB 327's first call today, like Monday, came up short of the 41 votes needed for passage. Then, after some discussion, one Democrat changed his 'no' to an 'aye' -- Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) -- while three Dem assemblymembers who had taken a pass on voting cast a vote for passage: Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills), Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), and Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia).

Meantime, a 2011 bill that did not get a do-over after an earlier defeat was SB 810, the single-payer health care bill carried by Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF). A handful of skeptical Democrats failed to give it the needed 21 votes, thus killing the hopes of many universal health care advocates to get the bill in front of Governor Jerry Brown, after it was vetoed twice by Governor Arnold Schwarznegger. A blogger on the liberal Daily Kos website Tuesday morning called the Dems "gutless" for not signing on to SB 810.

Also dying by day's end... after failing to get a supermajority vote... AB 1148, a bill to add new campaign disclosure rules by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). The bill would have required more prominent disclosure of big donors in TV ads, updated info on those donors on a campaign's website, and notations in California's well-known slate mailers of which candidates or campaigns had paid to be included in the list of "endorsed" campaigns. AB 1148 also would have broadened the disclosure rules out to independent expenditure committees.

A supermajority vote also eluded a Senate bill to keep affordable housing projects alive in the aftermath of abolishing redevelopment, though Senate Democrats removed the urgency language, presented it as a simple majority vote bill, whereby it then received bipartisan support.

Cash Crunch 2012: It was either shocking news or just a gentle reminder that was delivered Tuesday morning by Controller John Chiang, just before the Assembly's budget-writing committee was scheduled to meet. The state is poised to run short on cash to pay monthly bills by March 1.

"This liquidity shortfall is projected to persist for a defined period of time -- about seven weeks, from February 29 until approximately April 13," wrote Chiang in a letter to the chairs of the Legislature's budget committees.

While the letter refers to a plan to provide $3.3 billion of cash in the bank, the details of that plan remained fuzzy by day's end. Some of it will be payment deferrals -- Chiang says that includes payments to the UC and CSU systems as well as Medi-Cal -- while another chunk, approximately $865 million, would come from internal fund borrowing assuming legislators send SB 95 to the governor's desk soon.

The rest, says a spokesman for Treasurer Bill Lockyer, will come from investors in what's effectively going to be a supplemental revenue anticipation note (RAN), but one offered to private investors much in the way Lockyer crafted a plan in 2011 during the federal debt ceiling debate.

The cash plan "is not an ideal solution," wrote Chiang, "but it is the best way to manage the challenge without relying on IOUs or delaying tax refunds."

2011 Campaign Cash: Tuesday's deadline for candidates and campaigns to file detailed fundraising and expense reports for the year that just ended didn't offer very many juicy details about the political year ahead. In fact, if anything it seemed to point out how few dollars were committed by December 31.

While Governor Brown made clear that he's in fine shape for a re-election bid, should he choose to undertake one (more than $5 million in his 2010 and 2014 accounts, combined), very few other campaigns seemed to report big bucks.

In fact, most striking was how small the war chests were (again, as of Dec. 31) for some big campaigns this year. Neither of the two initiatives on the June ballot, the Proposition 28 term limits change or the Proposition 29 cigarette tax, seemed to have attracted much moolah before the new year. Having said that, the tobacco companies that will no doubt fight Prop 29 could easily pony up cash anytime.

One of the standouts in terms of limited dollars: the California Republican Party. The state GOP bet big on getting the referendum against the new Senate redistricting maps qualified for the November ballot (and the signatures are still being counted); overall, the party's report shows it raised $4.2 million in 2011. But the state GOP only had $439,000 in cash left on Dec. 31, and the fate of the redistricting effort still seems somewhat in doubt.

Meantime, the redistricting referendum campaign reported (PDF) having only $620.31 in the bank on the final day of 2011 and has reported no 2012 contributions. The campaign owes $214,000 in unpaid bills.

Compare that to California Democrats, who reported raising $11 million in 2011 and still sitting on a rather impressive $9.3 million in cash as of Dec. 31. That suggests Dems are well positioned for legislative and even ballot measure efforts in 2012, while Republicans will need a major infusion of cash... and in a hurry.

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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.

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