The California Legislature approved a $262.6 billion budget proposal on June 28, the largest in the state’s history, but a Republican state lawmaker said Democrats have corrupted the process through backroom deals that rob transparency and leave no room for outside input.
In the state budget proceedings, when reviewing senate and assembly versions of the budget, which are always different, a conference committee would typically meet to discuss and reconcile differences. The committee consists of two members of the majority party and one member of the minority party.
Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) told The Epoch Times there haven’t been conference committees in recent memory.
“For the last couple of years, we have not had conference committees,” Nielsen said. “That means it’s a huge opportunity to do everything behind the scenes, behind closed doors, not in public, and an excellent way to cut out the Republican Party from giving input on the budget directly.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said the focus of the 2021–22 budget was to help California recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he was certain the final budget would reflect the shared values of everyone involved.
“I’m grateful for the Legislature’s partnership and am confident we will reach a budget agreement that reflects our shared values and keeps California on a sustainable path of recovery and growth,” Newsom said in a statement released June 14, following the approval of California’s placeholder budget. “I look forward to working with legislative leaders to reach an agreement that will address California’s longstanding challenges to give every Californian family—regardless of their race or zip code—the opportunity to thrive.”
Nielsen identified trailer bills as another area of concern. The bills are historically used to implement budget provisions related strictly to the issues where there are differences that have problems getting resolved.
“There has been a gross proliferation of trailer bills, and they have become much more than simply implementing the provisions of the budget,” Nielsen said. “They have become venues for entire new major policy bills to slip through the process in a much more covert way, meaning not as much public scrutiny, not as much member participation [including for some Democrats], and not as much opportunity to participate in the trailer bills.”
In addition, around 10 years ago, the number of trailer bills was limited to five, though that number has slowly been increasing, Nielsen said.
This year, he said, legislators facilitated up to 90 of them.
Another of his criticisms relates to a rule that requires bills to be in print for 72 hours before voting on them. Nielsen said Democratic leaders completed their final drafting work over the weekend to prevent other members from being part of the review.
“All the final drafting and agreements are wrought behind closed doors by really only the Democratic leaders,” Nielsen said. “Now, that means 48 hours of the 72 hours is absolutely behind closed doors. And so the public is denied that opportunity, the members, both Democrat and Republican are denied the opportunity to be a part of that review to know what’s going on. And that’s another internal move by the majority party, to be able to put their will forth in a much easier way.”
‘Good News Budget’
Budget Chair and Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said the public could find plenty of encouraging news within the financial blueprint.
“In the wake of a 15-month pandemic that inflicted much pain and suffering on so many households, businesses and more, with this budget, California is building back boldly,” Skinner said in a statement.
“This good news budget funds our schools and childcare at record-breaking levels, sets the path to debt-free college, and puts additional money directly into the hands of low-income and middle-class families and small businesses.”