By all indications, the 2014 legislative year won't get off to a promising start.
As lawmakers arrive for the new session, state Sen. Rod Wright will be on trial in Los Angeles, accused of breaking state law by falsely claiming to live in the district he represented.
State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, will arrive under federal criminal investigation for public corruption, perhaps including bribery. Stripped of committee assignments, Calderon will have little to do, other than await the outcome of the investigation.
It's an election year, which is never conducive for getting much of substance done. But this one could be even tougher than most. Legislative leaders are termed out, leading to internal fights over succession.
Outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg intends to leave public office, at least for a while. But outgoing Speaker John A. Pérez will face the temptation of using his final months as an incumbent to aid his statewide campaign for controller.
Lawmakers who normally would be allies will be running against one another, including Sacramento Democratic Assembly Members Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan.
Gov. Jerry Brown will be running for re-election. Several legislators will be seeking statewide office.
They will be overly cautious, not wanting to make a misstep that would damage their chances in June and in November. They also will be spending inordinate amounts of time raising huge sums from moneyed interests seeking to influence their actions on policy matters.
Lawmakers likely won't get much done, but they should.
They must address the drought, ongoing irrigation water shortages and the lack of clean, safe drinking water in rural communities. They ought to tackle a tax system overhaul. Education needs constant attention, as does California's criminal justice sentencing system.
Would it be too much to ask for meaningful reform of the California Environmental Quality Act? Reform that enables cities to revitalize urban cores without being held hostage by labor unions should be a priority.
In the same vein, Gov. Brown and the Legislature need to come up with a financing vehicle for revitalization that replaces redevelopment, but eliminates the abuses and developer giveaways that led to RDA's rightful dismantling.
As California leads other states implementing the Affordable Care Act, thoughtful leaders should focus on ways to rein in the cost of health care, something Obamacare does not address in any serious way.
Although no amount of legislating can change human nature, the investigations should make lawmakers open to changing for the better campaign finance law by limiting fundraising when legislators are in session.
Especially in an election year, the pressure will be great to overspend the budget in the hope of spreading cheer to political benefactors and select groups of voters. Brown and lawmakers need to resist and not waste whatever surplus the state has for short-term political gain.
There is much to do and not do in 2014. Perhaps politicians will rise to the occasion. Any legislator will tell you that good policy makes for good politics. Voters have a right to hope that line is more than a mere bromide.
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