Did Sacramento break the law in transportation tax rush?

los-angeles-freewaysDid lawmakers break the law when they passed Senate Bill 1, the transportation tax increase?

There’s a quaint provision in the California Constitution that reads, “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

By the time Gov. Jerry Brown finished twisting arms and greasing palms to pass a massive transportation tax hike, that antique language was on the curb like a broken grandfather clock waiting for a bulky-item pickup.

Brown and legislative leaders promised a billion dollars for specific local projects in the districts of wavering lawmakers, and one termed-out Republican senator made a deal for a law to protect people in his profession — civil engineering, not the profession you’re thinking of — from liability in construction lawsuits.

It’s not easy to prove a quid pro quo, Latin meaning “something for something.” People don’t typically leave a written record that says, “I’ll vote for this if you vote for that.”

But one thing is different this time. In November, California voters passed Proposition 54, a measure aimed at guaranteeing transparency in state lawmaking. Prop. 54 says bills must be in print and online in their final form 72 hours before the Legislature votes on them.

The transportation tax increase, SB1, was posted online on April 3. If the Legislature was going to meet its self-imposed deadline to pass the bill on April 6, not one word of it could be changed before the vote.

So all the wheeling, dealing, greasing, and “promise of reward” had to go into a separate bill.

And it did.

SB132 contains a billion dollars of “that” which was negotiated in exchange for a vote on “this.”

Not only is it in writing, there are many statements on the record from lawmakers that their vote for the transportation tax was explicitly tied to a promise from the governor and legislative leaders that the “thats” would be delivered.

Are the deals spelled out in SB132 a violation of the law under Proposition 54? They are effectively amendments to SB1 that were written into a different bill. If that’s legal, then the 72-hour requirement that voters just added to the state constitution has already been thrown to the curb with the rest of the grandfather clocks.

Before the truck comes to pick up the garbage, we should retrieve that language about bribery and reward and see if it applies to outgoing Sen. Anthony Cannella’s deal to condition his vote for SB1 on the passage of SB496, a bill Cannella authored to protect “design professionals,” including civil engineers, from lawsuits stemming from future work. “Anthony is a civil engineer,” Cannella’s official bio states.

Maybe you’re thinking it won’t pass. He was ahead of you. Language was added to the billion-dollar spending bill, SB132, to make it “operative” only if SB496 is enacted.

In addition to the billion dollars of “reward” written into SB132 on April 6, the bill was amended on April 5 to add $1 billion for “augmented employee compensation.”

Yes, another $1 billion of “compensation increases and increases in benefits” for state workers was slipped in while everyone was wondering where the state spent all our transportation taxes.

Talk about being taken for a ride.

Susan Shelley is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

Combating the Legislature’s ‘Sausage Making Behind Closed Doors’

As reported by the New York Times:

Is the State Legislature transparent enough?

That’s the question voters are being asked to consider with Proposition 54.

If approved, the measure would require that any bill in the Legislature be posted online for three days before going up for a vote. In addition, it would require the Legislature to record all of its public sessions online and make the video archives available.

The measure was placed on the ballot by Charles Munger Jr., a wealthy Republican donor from the Bay Area, and has the backing of a variety of political groups, including the League of Women Voters and the California Chamber of Commerce.

While most legislation in Sacramento is debated for months, there are instances when the majority can simply waive the rules and push through bills at the last minute. In final days of the annual session, new bills can pop up and be rushed to a vote before the public has much of a chance to weigh in. …

Click here to read the full article

Proposition 54 and the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act”

TransparencyAmid the ballot initiatives gifting Californians with a 200-plus page voter guide is at least one sensible idea. Proposition 54 targets “gut and amend” (Ganda) bills, which are diametrically opposed to responsible legislative deliberation.

Ganda legislation takes “how a bill becomes law” civics book descriptions, then adds “not” at the beginning. In the race to beat the legislative end-of-session deadline, power brokers take bills that have cleared most legislative hurdles and replace them with completely different bills. Then they rush them through the minimal scrutiny of the last-minute frenzy (e.g., with multiple committee hearings in a single room in an hour).

This year’s appropriation of nearly $1 billion in pollution fee money is one example. Earlier illustrations include transforming a Silverlake Reservoir bill into requiring that gun buyback programs test weapons for criminal involvement (2014), California Environmental Quality Act exemptions for housing projects into increased alternative vehicle technology funding (2013), and pension reform into a fire prevention fee repeal (2012). The last three weeks of 2011’s session included 48 Ganda bills (my favorite: morphing a measure allowing tuberculosis information disclosure into one preventing local government bans of project labor agreements).

Unfortunately, bills sensible enough to command sufficient consensus can pass in daylight. Only legislation failing that test requires Ganda evasions.

That is what Proposition 54 addresses. It would require any bill to be both in print and available on the internet 72 hours before it could be enacted (with a ‘public emergency” escape clause). It would also intensify the sunlight on the sausage-making by mandatory videotaping of all public meetings, to be posted online within 24 hours, and by allowing any citizen to record any public meeting and use it without restriction.

Despite Proposition 54’s potential to protect Californians from legislative back-room bullying, it has opponents, particularly among power brokers. One rebuttal is, in essence, that despite missing deadlines or failing to get approval, sometimes legislatures “just need to act.” But that is not a reason; it simply assumes its conclusion — the powerful must be allowed to circumvent the rules whenever they decide it is necessary. That is why the Democratic Party opposes Proposition 54 with a preposterous rhetorical Ganda, twisting its protections against unwarranted legislative abuses into a claim that it would better allow “special interests” (i.e., those targeted for harm to fund legislative presents for others) to “block timely legislative action.”

The core problem is that for Ganda bills to benefit Californians requires several false things to be true.

The bill would have to be the Legislature’s business. Unfortunately, despite injecting itself everywhere, very little legislation can actually advance our general welfare. Benefiting some at others’ expense is another matter, but such bills deserve destruction, not greasing through.

Only the Legislature must be competent to deal with the issue. Where people can work things out for themselves, no legislation is needed, except repeal of what prevents voluntary private solutions. Those lauded by politicians for their wisdom during campaigns deserve the power to use it in their own affairs.

The problem must be too urgent to wait for ensuing terms. The sponsor must know how to implement an efficient and equitable solution. It must also come as a sudden surprise. But it is laughable to think of our legislators quickly developing real solutions to serious problems unrecognized just weeks before, and still needing to sneak them through.

Gut and amend survives only because it lets urgency insulate legislators from accountability. Capitol power brokers may “need” it for their purposes, but it harms citizens. That is why eliminating Ganda is important and also why all such legislative attempts have been killed. Proposition 54, which the legislature would morph into the “We Can Do Whatever We Want Act” at the last minute, given the chance, deserves support, in order to take such chances away.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and member of the FEE faculty network. His most recent books are Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Lines of Liberty (2016) 

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