Relatively speedy budget deal clears way for other legislation 

Few, if any, California legislators can remember a summer not dominated by a political stalemate over a late and unbalanced state budget.

Indeed, last year the budget remained unsettled until October. Then it was enacted with a patchwork scenario that almost immediately fell apart.

That stalemate persuaded voters to approve Proposition 25, which reduced the budget’s vote requirement to a simple majority. And after much political machinations, a budget was enacted last week, thus freeing Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators to deal with other matters during the remainder of the 2011 session.

So what will happen now?

Lawmakers, more than 1,000 lobbyists and the media will now pay attention to the hundreds of bills making their way through the Capitol, ranging from the important (health insurance rate regulation) to the pointless (banning prison inmates from tattooing themselves).

The health insurance measure, which if enacted would make Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones one of the state’s most powerful political figures, is emblematic of the major legislation whose fate will be determined in the next couple of months.

Liberal groups — unions, consumer activists, environmentalists and personal injury lawyers — have been pushing their long-stalled agendas on the assumption that Democrat Brown would be friendlier than the pro-business governors who followed Brown’s first stint in the governorship three decades ago.

But will he be? As he was signing a new budget last week, Brown also vetoed legislation that would have made it easier for the United Farm Workers union to organize field workers through “card checks.”

The veto was a win for agricultural groups and the state Chamber of Commerce and a big setback for the UFW. It was also something of a shock to liberals because Brown had fostered and signed the original farm labor legislation during his first governorship.

This year the governor sought and received support from the chamber and other business groups in his unsuccessful quest for a bipartisan budget that included billions of dollars in tax extensions. He doesn’t want to alienate them while the long-term budget situation is still in flux and there is likelihood of ballot battles next year over taxes and other issues.

The liberal groups, therefore, cannot assume that Brown will sign everything that reaches his desk. The only certainty is that with the budget now settled, at least for the time being, legislators will be able to take their traditional monthlong summer vacation beginning July 15.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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