March 24, 2006

Commentary:

For Democrats it was a Question of Schools over Transportation

By Fabián Núñez
California State Assembly Speaker

When Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed a $68 billion borrowing plan earlier this year for education, transportation, levees, housing and more, Democrats said we would set aside partisan differences and work with the governor for the good of the people of California.

That is exactly what we did. Democrats in the Assembly worked night and day to find common ground with the governor and his allies. And although we were not able to agree on all of the portions of the governor’s plan, we voted – Assembly Democrats and Republicans alike — to place $4 billion for levees and $19 billion for school construction on the June ballot.

But there will be no bond issue on the June ballot because the governor was unable to convince his Republican colleagues to support his drive to invest in California’s infrastructure.

While there were differences among the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate – our first priority was schools and theirs was transportation – it was the abject refusal of the legislative Republicans to make a deal on a megabond that killed a compromise proposal supported by Democrats in both houses who had negotiated in good faith with the Republican governor.

Even Gov. Schwarzenegger was astonished by the Republicans’ intransigence. Their fixation on water storage projects was “almost a religious issue,” the governor said. “It was like a holy war in some ways.”

Democrats were every bit as committed to providing protection for the 26 million Californians who get their water from some form of conveyance that involves levees. But we could not, in good conscience, accede to Republican demands to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act in order to obtain their consent.

And although Gov. Schwarzenegger continued to insist on a super megabond package, not a single Republican supported him. So those of us in the Assembly felt half a loaf was better than none. We believed that if we could reach agreement with our GOP colleagues on education and levees, that we needed to do what is right and put something on the ballot in June.

Democrats have demonstrated that we are willing to work with the governor to solve real problems for Californians. We can be criticized for lots of things – but that is one area where we should get some credit.

We did not stand on the sidelines. We engaged.

We’re still willing to work with the governor for a ballot measure in November. But he’s got to convince his fellow Republicans to do what’s best for California. When he does, we will work with him with the same determination and commitment we did during the past two months.

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