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A WILD FINISH TO A CRAZY YEAR

By Scott Kaufman, Legislative Director

It has been a strange year, full of change not only inside the Capitol, but outside of it too. It seems only natural, then, that this column changes with it. You may have noticed a different name on the byline than the one you’ve become accustomed to seeing. David Wolfe has left the organization to work on his own consulting business. I’m the new HJTA Legislative Director, Scott Kaufman.

Hello!

First, a little about myself. I am a California native, born and raised in Ventura County. I attended college at the University of California, San Diego. I got a degree from UCSD, but more important, I also found a wife. We both liked San Diego so much that we decided to stay and bought our first home in Oceanside.

From there, I started my career in journalism and spent much of that time as an editorial writer at the Orange County Register. After a brief stint as the opinion editor at the Register, I took a position at the American Legislative Exchange Council working with state legislators on educational reform and school choice.

Now, I find myself in Sacramento with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and it is a tremendous privilege to be your voice in the state Capitol.

I’m too young to know California before Proposition 13, but my parents passed down the story of Howard Jarvis and the 1978 tax revolt like California lore. They remember what home ownership was like around here before Proposition 13. My mother recently told me on a visit that without Prop. 13, we would likely have had to move out of California.

In hindsight, with our out-of-control state government, maybe that would have been the smart thing to do. Plenty of our friends and family are fleeing or have already fled. But, I’m a fifth-generation Californian. This is my home. I want to raise a sixth-generation Californian, and I want them to raise a seventh-generation Californian. This fight is personal, and I hope you’ll stick it out with me.

But enough about me. You came here to roll your eyes at all the high jinks coming out of the State Legislature, and we have plenty of stories to tell this year. COVID-19 rocked the Capitol for much of the year, so why would the end of the session be any different?

As the deadline to pass legislation rushed toward us, a Republican state Senator tested positive for COVID-19. Per Senate rules, he was banished from the Capitol for 14 days along with anyone else in the legislature he encountered — even if they subsequently tested negative. That happened to be most of the Republican Senate Caucus.

Senate Republicans were forced to spend the waning days of the session participating by video (even though the Office of Legislative Counsel said it was likely illegal), and technical difficulties ensued. Deciding that dealing with Republican colleagues digitally was slowing the rush of bills, Senate leadership moved to limit debate. Senate Republicans rebelled, and Senator Melissa Melendez uttered the shot heard round the world, calling the move “bulls—” into a hot mic.

We feel you, Senator Melendez.

Order was eventually restored, and the session continued. But don’t blame all the turmoil on COVID-19. It’s a snapshot into how the sausage is made here in the state Capitol. Beyond the technical difficulties, the chaos in the last week of the session was largely par for the course.

The Democrats have a supermajority and control the process. Much of what happens is a foregone conclusion. Yet, the waning days of the session always feel like a mad dash. That’s because the process rewards obfuscation. Why debate a bill on the merits in the sunshine of the legislative process when procedural tricks and pretenses can hide it from the public?

One way they do this is with the so-called gut-and-amend process, where they take a bill, strip out its existing language and amend it into a completely different piece of legislation. Another trick is “trailer bills.” These are passed months earlier in the session as essentially blank bills with only a line of placeholder text. After closed-door negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders, these bills spring to life and new language replaces the placeholder text. Then they sail through the process without hearings, amendments or debate.

The good news is that in the last-minute rush, any small disagreement can derail the process and mean the difference between a tax hike being signed into law or not. That was especially true this year, where the shortened schedule meant that lots of bad bills didn’t make it over the finish line. That included attempts to raise the already highest-in-the-nation income tax even higher and, perhaps the zaniest idea yet, to impose a 0.4 percent wealth tax on the richest Californians.

The bad news is, we will likely see them come back again next year. But I’ll be waiting. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is the most influential taxpayer advocacy group in California, and your continued support keeps it strong. I’m honored to be fighting for you in Sacramento.

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