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Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner

2014 Legislative Outlook

The new legislative session begins today and I thought I would use the occasion to take a shot at answering a virtually unanswerable question: What can we expect from Sacramento for the coming year?

First a bit of explanation as to why the question is virtually unanswerable. No one outside the deepest swamps of leftist ideology can possibly imagine all of the nonsense a progressive Democrat supermajority of California legislators can come up with. So any prediction of what to expect will inevitably miss some of the wilder and more unbelievable bits of legislation in store for us this session. In short, you can’t entirely predict the coming legislative year because you just can’t make some of their stuff up.

Another reason is that, frankly, no one knows enough about a majority of the Democrats to make a confident prediction. More than half of the members of the Assembly have been in office only a year or less. Because they have no significant track record, it is hard to predict how they will vote. Some claim to be moderates, but that claim needs to be proven with actual votes. There is some doubt that these self-styled moderates really are moderate.

Finally, a dispute seemingly exists in the Democrat ranks as to their best legislative strategy for the next year. Some Democrat leaders urge taking a slow approach to socially leftist legislation on the theory that they need to cement the supermajority, i.e., get all those new members through their first re-elections, before moving more aggressively on the left’s legislative wish list. But the other side of the dispute urges prompt action on the so-called “progressive” agenda, arguing that the public gave them a supermajority to enact that agenda and that they could lose it in November so this may be the only chance.

Until we see which side of this internal Democrat argument wins out, the 2014 legislative session really will not completely take shape.

With all of that as prelude, then, here are some things I do think we can expect.

First, Proposition 13 is in danger and I expect a legislative effort to undo some of its protections. Specifically, the left has long sought a “split roll,” meaning that commercial and residential property would be re-assessed under different circumstances. Even Jon Coupal, the estimable head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, has acknowledged that there are abuses of Proposition 13’s principles under the current system. But the split roll envisioned by the left is not the answer to those abuses. It will devastate small business – or what’s left of it in this state – and the real estate market. Moreover, it will be just the initial assault on Proposition 13 and if allowed to succeed merely a prelude to a more comprehensive effort to undo the fundamental protections that Proposition 13 offers to the people of California.

Second, the Democrats are not done trying to take away guns and ammo from law abiding citizens. The governor – thankfully – vetoed several bad anti-Second Amendment bills last year. But those bills will be back, perhaps modified to avoid a veto, perhaps daring the governor to veto them again, perhaps assuming that the political environment will allow the governor to sign bills he voted before. Either way, expect that the gun grab will continue.

Third, the plaintiff’s trial bar and public employee labor unions will continue to dominate Sacramento. As a long-time observer of state politics, I knew of that domination; but as a member of the legislature for the last three years, having a chance to see it up close, I can’t help but conclude that the reality of special interest control of the ruling party is even worse than I had imagined.

Fourth, the Democrats will spend more of your money than they should, will save less of it, if any, and will not fix the fundamental economic problems the state faces. The temporarily rosy economic forecast will not last because it is built on tax increases that expire eventually – one hopes! – and not on any fundamental change to the underlying economy. We still spend too much and have outrageous unfunded liabilities.

Finally, the Democrats will not obey their own rules because they don’t have to. I’ve written periodically before of the Democrats changing rules unilaterally, or voting to suspend the rules when they want, or gutting and amending bad legislation to keep it alive, or any manner of other parliamentary games. Those will continue this year.

Welcome to the 2014 legislative session.

Assembly Member Wagner represents the Orange County cities of Anaheim, Irvine, Lake Forest, Orange, Tustin, Villa Park, and surrounding areas.