California lawmakers convene for start of 2-year session
December 3, 2012
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – State lawmakers officially begin their next two-year session Monday with the Legislature reshaped by the November election.
Voters gave Democrats two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and Senate, enough to raise taxes if they choose without Republican support. They also approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, which will bring in about $6 billion a year from higher sales and income taxes on the wealthy.
If Democratic lawmakers don’t blow through the new money, the state could see a budget surplus within two years.
“We have a tremendous opportunity and also a great responsibility to govern,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is poised to be re-elected to that leadership post. John Perez, D-Los Angeles, is expected to be re-elected Assembly speaker.
Monday’s events will be mostly ceremonial before the Legislature adjourns for the holidays, although some lawmakers will begin introducing bills to be taken up next year. How to address the $1.9 billion budget deficit – a far smaller gap than California is used to – will be taken up after lawmakers reconvene in January. Gov. Jerry Brown also has said he plans to call a special session of the Legislature to address health care reforms after the first of the year.
Half the 40 senators are newly elected or re-elected, while the other half are in the middle of their four-year terms. There is one vacancy, with a special election scheduled Jan. 8 to replace state Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, who resigned his 4th Senate District seat in a successful bid for Congress.
Nearly half the 80 Assembly members will be new to the Legislature. It was unclear if all 80 could be sworn in because the vote margin in a few contests remains too narrow for the race to be called.
“It’s a very serious day,” said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, who is entering her final two-year term. “I remember for me, I had my mom with me on the floor and you look around at the beautiful building, the history and the other Californians that got themselves elected to represent the people. It’s kind of a moving moment for some of us.”
Democrats will have enhanced power this session after voters gave them veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers for the first time in decades. The two-thirds majorities mean Democrats no longer need Republican votes to approve tax increases or place ballot measures before voters, and proposals already are surfacing to rewrite the state’s tax structure.
Lawmakers, along with California’s statewide officeholders, also will be working for less pay starting Monday. The California Citizens Compensation Commission voted in May to reduce their salaries by 5 percent.
Even with the reduction, California lawmakers will remain the nation’s highest paid with a base salary of $90,525 a year. Unlike lawmakers in some other states, they do not receive pensions.
The salaries for the Assembly and Senate leaders will be cut to $104,105.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s $174,000 salary will drop to about $165,000. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $130,000 salary will fall to about $124,000, and Attorney General Kamala Harris will be paid less than $144,000, down from about $151,000.
Commissioners justified the action by pointing to years of state budget deficits, although voter approval of Brown’s tax initiative in November is expected to give the state an actual surplus a year from now. The independent panel previously reduced salaries for California’s statewide officeholders and its 120 legislators by 18 percent in 2009.
Associated Press Writer Juliet Williams contributed to this story.