Like most political observers, we at the Sacramento Report like to make predictions. So what better way to ring in the New Year than to predict what will be the biggest state government stories of 2015?
A fight over new spending: As we explained early last month, state tax revenues are coming in way over projections, which means for the first time in years, California likely will have some extra dough to play with when the budget is finalized in June. This will set the stage for an inter-party battle royale between legislative Democrats, who want to see more spending — particularly on social programs — and the leader of their party, Gov. Jerry Brown, who has made fiscal restraint a hallmark of his second stint as governor.
Tension over UC tuition: In a typical year, a fight over new spending would be the biggest budget battle, but 2015 is not shaping up to be a typical year. That’s because UC President Janet Napolitano has threatened to raise tuition if the system doesn’t get more money. This will be the budget battle du jour. The governor opposes the tuition hike — but like we said, he also wants to hold the line on new spending. Meanwhile, in the Legislature, the reaction as has been all over the place. As the Sacramento Bee recently noted, “the UC’s proposed tuition hike has been met with a range of responses, from proposals for increased funding to a constitutional amendment that would strip the university of the autonomy it has had for more than a century.”
Press popularity: Expect the press corps in Sacramento to favor the Assembly leadership over the Senate leadership in 2015. For years, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was very popular with reporters because he regularly made himself available for interviews. But Steinberg was termed out in 2014 and has been replaced by Kevin de Leon, who isn’t nearly as friendly with the press. Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is working to be more responsive to the needs of the Fourth Estate than her predecessor, John A. Perez. Atkins’ work will pay off.
Rumbles in the Senate: Speaking of Kevin de Leon, expect the rumor mill to persist that he could be ousted this year by incoming Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker who knows how to pull the levers of power. De Leon is unpopular in many parts of the Capitol — and his recent actions to fire dozens of Senate staffers hasn’t helped.
• Sen. Jerry Hill wants to expand the use of ignition interlocks. (Sacramento Bee)
• A newspaper investigation finds 33 inmates with life sentences paroled under Brown have returned to prison or jail. (L.A. Times)
• Sixteen CalFire workers have been put on leave in anticipation of a sexual misconduct report. (Sacramento Bee)
• In November,Brown won in areas where other Democrats lost. (Sacramento Bee)
• The Times profiles Brown heading into his historic fourth term. (L.A. Times)
• Meet 2014’s biggest political donor. (L.A. Times)
• An advocate seeks to make ferrets legal in California in 2015. (Sacramento Bee)
• The Sierra snowpack has grown — which is good news for drought watchers. (San Jose Mercury News)
• Here are some new health-related laws that went into effect with the turn of the year. (KQED)
Another prediction: At least one of the above predictions will be way off base.