Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

A couple of years ago, Bill Lockyer, the veteran politician who is now the state treasurer, showed up in the Capitol to scold legislators for their preoccupation with trivia.

“Sorry, but two-thirds of the bills that I see come out of the Assembly, if they never saw the light of day, God bless it,” Lockyer said.

“Just stop it. I mean they’re junk. And they’re consuming all your staff time with junk.”

Lawmakers didn’t take kindly to the words from Lockyer, a one-time president pro tem of the state Senate. If anything, the Legislature became even more consumed with junk legislation – small beer favors for special interests, symbolic gestures and naked publicity-seeking.

Not surprisingly, the Legislature’s image suffered. With the state mired in recession, its approval rate among voters stands somewhere in the teens.

As the 2011 session began, legislative leaders vowed to balance the budget and take steps to improve the stagnant economy. With Democrat Jerry Brown in the governorship, Democratic majorities in both legislative houses and the two-thirds vote requirement for budgets repealed by voters, they said, the stage was set for big action on big issues.

It didn’t happen.

The budget was balanced only on paper with the gimmicks and creative bookkeeping that Brown had pledged to shun, and has been slowly falling apart ever since. Instead of attacking the state’s thorniest issues – such as education, water supply highway congestion and tax reform – the session quickly deteriorated into business as usual, handing out goodies to the politically influential.

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