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By Scott Kaufman, Legislative Director

HJTA supported a bill to stop the annual increase in the gas tax.

In an apocryphal quote usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck, it is said that “laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” In California, we don’t have to look further than the state budget process to see that regardless of who said it, the quote is accurate.

You may have read news reports of the state budget’s passage in early June. What you probably didn’t know is that it was really nothing more than a placeholder budget. It was not the real budget. Simply put, the budget was a sham. It was rammed through to meet the constitutional obligation of passing a budget by June 15 so the Legislature could continue to get paid.

The budget was drafted largely in secret and put into print less than a week before it sailed through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk. And, clocking in at almost 1,000 pages, this breakneck process left little time for public input or review. But then, serious review would be a fool’s errand since many details are to be filled in later via a slew of “trailer bills” following negotiations with the governor.

These trailer bills often start out as stacks of blank bills with a single line of text. After the real budget is negotiated, again in secret, by the governor and the Democratic legislative leaders, the agreed-upon provisions become “amendments” to the blank bills and can have very little, if anything, to do with the implementation of the budget.

Sure enough, the Sunday before the start of the fiscal year beginning that Friday, the real budget deal was struck and around 30 trailer bills came to life and started to move. The only law on the books to counter any of this is the California Legislature Transparency Act, which requires that every bill be in print and posted online for at least 72 hours before its final vote in either house of the Legislature.

That slows the process, but only momentarily. These trailer bills still sail through just like the fake budget did because in a one-party state like California, there is no one to say no.

It wasn’t always this way. But in 2010, the Legislature put Proposition 25 on the ballot. Entitled the “On-Time Budget Act of 2010,” its real purpose was to repeal the requirement that the budget bill receive a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Knowing that voters are rightfully suspicious of lowering any vote threshold, the Legislature sold the proposal to voters by saying that, if they approved Prop. 25, budgets would be passed on time, with greater transparency, and legislators would forfeit their pay if the budget was late.

All three of these representations were clearly lies.

So, you might be asking, what’s in the actual budget? Well, $300 billion in spending, but if you were hoping for some relief at the gas pump, I have bad news for you.

Assembly Member Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, introduced Assembly Bill 1638, a bill that would have suspended the gas tax for six months, but when the bill was heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee, it was an ambush. Alex Lee, D-San Jose, immediately moved to gut the bill and replace it with a new tax on gas suppliers with the proceeds going to a supposed rebate.

There was no debate. There wasn’t even bill language for these new amendments that the committee could review. The chair of the committee, Assembly Member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, admitted that she had “not had the opportunity to dive in depth into this.”

But the bill passed out of committee anyway with an 8–4 vote. The gas tax cut had turned into a gas tax hike. Then, on the last day of the session before the Legislature slipped out of town for Spring Recess, the Democrats simply struck the bill from the file on a party-line vote. That means the Transportation Committee’s amendments were not made — it’s like they never happened.

Again, there was no debate. The bill wasn’t even referred to as AB 1638 on the floor. It was just “Item Number One.” Even though Kiley’s bill remains in print, it’s effectively dead for the year.

But don’t worry, the budget does contain yet another stimulus check (because Sacramento thinks giving away money is a better idea than cutting taxes) of up to $1,050. Checks will go out in October…just in time for the November election. They’re trying to buy your vote with your money. It’s business as usual in our one-party state.