Wednesday, February 17th
The Sacramento Press Club welcomed
Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg
Wrap-up of the February 2010 luncheon featuring Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, courtesy of the Capitol Morning Report. The daily online subscription resource first published this report for its readers, and has graciously allowed republishing by the Sacramento Press Club. See http://www.capitolmr.com/.
Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg conceded to the Sacramento Press Club Wednesday that he doesn't yet know how to solve the state's $19.9 billion budget deficit. But when asked what he would do if he could avoid the 2/3 rule that allows legislative Republicans to block him, he listed two reforms he'd want to put in place.
The first would be to expand and make more progressive the tax base. The second would be to make local agencies raise their own fees to pay for the services they provide.
It's the responsibility of elected officials to find the money to pay for services, he said, but he doubted his local counterparts would do so. Instead, he expects they would turn such decisions over to voters.
Steinberg answered questions that followed his prepared remarks so candidly that at one point he apologized to his press secretary Alicia Trost.
This was Steinberg's second talk to the press club since being elected pro Tem last year. He said dealing with the deficit then was his most difficult job since entering politics. Cutting programs for the poor and disabled particularly hurt. "A year later I come before you and we're not out of it. But we are still standing."
The focus of his approach as leader of the Senate has been compromise and forcing partisans, including himself, "away from their comfort zone." Still he said he refuses to enter this early stage of budget negotiations by considering cutting more programs. "We've done enough damage and I'm not happy about it," he said. He also said he refuses to put Prop. 63 funds, monies raised through his initiative to serve the mentally ill, on the table.
Without offering specifics he said he hoped to be able to "winnow down" the deficit before discussing program cuts. "We'll take one bite out of the elephant at a time and we'll get this done," he said.
He said he wasn't interested in engaging in debate but accomplishing goals quickly and through compromise, and cited passage of an $11 billion water bond as an example. As a result, he's taking a "low key" approach now and not promising too much.
He said he expected there would be far fewer "Big Five" meetings this year so members of the Legislature can hash out deals. Steinberg also said he would do away with the practice of forcing budget negotiations during all-night legislative sessions. "I had more sleepovers last year than my 15-year-old daughter," he said.
As hard as it is to face the ongoing budget crisis and low approval ratings for the Legislature, Steinberg told the 100 luncheon guests, including his mother, Arlene, that his job remains rewarding. He said he agrees with former Senator John Vasconcellos who believed that it's more fun to serve during good times but more important to serve during difficult times.