The Sacramento Vampires

Michael Sheen Aro
Summit Entertainment

Two important bills -- both crucial to government finances in California -- appear to be dead. A Senate committee this week voted down legilsation that seeks to protect taxpayers from pension costs through a number of reforms, chief among them raising the retirement ages for public workers. On another front, union-backed legislation that would make it more difficult for local governments to declare bankruptcy (and thus get out from under their obligations to government employees) was put on the list of inactive Senate bills.

So that's it, right? Not in Sacramento, where these two measures are very good candidates to become the sort of legislative vampires that rise from the dead.

California's governing system -- in particular, its requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass budget bills -- makes it easy to revive legislation that doesn't get passed the usual way. How's that? Well, when you need two thirds to pass a budget, small groups of lawmakers -- typically but not always, minority Republicans -- have extraordinary power to block the budget. It is common practice for small groups to threaten to block the budget unless there is an agreement to approve controversial legislation they want. (Prop 14, the top two primary measure passed by voters last week, was one of these vampires; it was a failed proposal that was revived at the last minute during budget negotiations in early 2009 as part of the price of getting then-State Sen. Abel Maldonado's vote for various budget cuts and temporary taxes).

Both the pension reform bill and the local government bankruptcy bill are classic candidates to be revived in this way -- hey are bills that particular legislators or interest groups desperately want, but can't get through the usual votes. They are vampires. Look for them to rise again later this summer.

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