Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Jun. 11, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

As the Capitol churns toward Friday’s deadline for a new state budget, the macro-issues are well known, such as whether health, welfare and child care services should be slashed by billions of dollars to close the deficit.

There are, however, other aspects of the annual budget wrangle that go largely unnoticed, such as the march into secrecy – or, more accurately, sneakiness.

For decades, a few key legislators drafted the entire budget in secrecy with virtually no public exposure or input, but about 40 years ago, there was an internal revolt because one powerful senator had loaded up the budget with park projects in his district.

“Park barrel,” as it was dubbed, led to reforms in how the budget was drafted, including public hearings and recorded committee votes on specific items.

In recent years, however, the process has been reverting to secrecy, with major policy decrees, including those totally unrelated to the budget, being drafted in the dead of night and enacted without any public exposure.

This year, the Legislature is taking even more steps down the path to secret government by abolishing the traditional “conference committee” that goes through the budget line by line in public, and by increasing the number of so-called “trailer bills,” many of which contain token $1,000 appropriations, but have no real budget connection.

What’s the real agenda? Giveaways of one kind or another to favored interest groups.

One goody in the budget is a limit on damages in wildfire-liability cases, benefiting timber companies, in return for a $30 million special tax on lumber to cover state regulatory costs, pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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