Gov. Schwarzenegger’s call to special session no guarantee of action
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) ” After a year of gridlock, lawmakers say they want to reach deals with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reform health care and improve the state’s water supply.
But a special legislative session called last week by the governor may not result in consensus and compromise.
On health care, the governor and Democrats still do not have the Republican support they need to enact reform legislatively, and their plan now is to seek voter approval through a ballot initiative.
On water, environmentalists have locked horns with Republicans over the dams they say are needed to store water. Many Democrats spent most of the year refusing to negotiate, and no deal has emerged, despite a developing drought and a court order that will force the state to stop pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta _ which supplies two-thirds of the state’s water.
Schwarzenegger said he ran out of time to negotiate both issues because of the 51-day budget standoff engineered by Senate Republicans over the summer. But the Legislature’s enduring ideological disagreements contributed at least as much to the lack of action.
The discord is not only between the two parties, which hold views on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but also between the parties and the centrist governor, who began the year with a much-publicized promise to bring bipartisan cooperation to the fractious state capital.
On health care, for example, Schwarzenegger and the Democrats cannot agree on how much to charge employers to fund an expansion of insurance. The state needs to raise billions of dollars to cover the 4.9 million Californians without insurance.
With no hope of gaining Republican approval for the tax increases they want, Schwarzenegger and the Democrats plan to ask voters to approve it for them instead, probably on the November 2008 ballot.
A ballot measure could include levies on employers and hospitals, as the governor has proposed, as well as a sales tax increase proposed by business.
But businesses that supported the sales tax to avoid new taxes on employers may revolt if both are included in a ballot measure. Analysts say such a measure would only pass if it had a broad coalition backing it.
Schwarzenegger is also trying to avoid directly endorsing a sales tax, a delicate issue after he spent last year telling his Republican base to stick with him because he would not raise taxes.
Labor, meanwhile, is leery of the sales tax and wants employers to pay as much as possible, to take the pressure off workers to pay rising health costs. Unions supported a Democratic plan that would have nearly doubled the tax Schwarzenegger proposed.
The ideological divide is just as apparent on water issues, although the problems may be even more pressing than health care.
In the delta, lawmakers are grappling with a collapsing ecosystem, sea levels that are projected to rise because of climate change, crumbling levees and unchecked proliferation of invasive species.
Water supplies also were cut back this summer because of the low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and the dwindling population of the delta smelt. A federal court ruling that blamed pumping for much of the delta smelt’s decline could cut water exports much more _ by as much as a third, according to state officials.
“The federal judge really threw down the gauntlet,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland. “He said either you guys get something done, or you are not going to have any water.”
Republicans say new dams should be built, in part, to allow more water to be stored elsewhere. But environmentalists reject dams because they change the natural flow of rivers and trap fish.
Earlier this year, Democrats rejected a $5.9 billion proposal for two new dams as a subsidy for wealthy farmers, who would get a share of the water.
Schwarzenegger also wants to get a bond measure on the February ballot to build a peripheral canal routing fresh water from the Sacramento River around the delta and into Southern California. Northern Californians and environmentalists defeated a bond for a similar canal in 1982, portraying it as a Southern California water grab.
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