GOP Solutions Worth Considering to Solve State Problems

Republicans have no power in the state capitol. But they do have good ideas sometimes. Democrats steal them too.

GOP legislators in the Senate and Assembly this week announced their spending priorities for 2022 and hardly anyone noticed.

Why would anyone? Republicans are considered practically irrelevant.

Democrats have a majority in both houses. They are able to pass any bill they want what Republicans think. And Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is a good bet to sign it.

GOP lawmakers — an oxymoron in Sacramento — can’t pass anything without lots of Democratic help.

Still, the GOP’s solutions to address the state’s problems are sometimes so important that they should at least be seriously debated.

The Office of the Nonpartisan Legislative Analyst forecast a surplus of $31 billion for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. That figure will change — estimates are on the upside — when the governor unveils his proposed state budget on Monday.

Lucky Newsom has been using the extra money since he took office in 2019. He topped last year with a windfall profit of $76 billion. The total budget for the current year is $263 billion.

“The fact that we have a surplus means we taxed the people more,” says assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

It’s a well-known GOP mantra, but it’s hard to dispute when the state continues to haul in dollars it never expected.

Democrats will be forced to consider some form of tax cut as the state apparently reaches the so-called anthem limit. This spending limit was heavily approved by voters in 1979 during the era of the tax-cutting rebellion.

Under Gain Limits, there are ways for Democrats to avoid permanent tax cuts or one-time tax exemptions. Surplus money can be spent on infrastructure, K-12 schools and community colleges, local government, loan repayment or emergencies.

Republicans’ priority list for spending is leading the way to ramping up waterworks during this drought.

They understandably want to put a lot of money into preventing and fighting devastating wildfires.

His wish list is long:

“Vacation from state gas and car taxes” expanded renters’ tax relief and good mental health treatment for the homeless. Plus, additional funding for special education, mental health support, and counseling, especially in rural areas represented by GOP lawmakers. And more money for charter schools.

Republicans say law enforcement should get a major boost, especially in tackling smash-and-grab retail thefts. Newsom has already pledged $305 million.

When Republicans propose spending large amounts of money to increase California’s water supply during a drought, the natural public reaction will usually be “duh.”

But the GOP is proposing a major switch from the traditional “user pays” concept to “everyone pays.”

Major water projects have always been financed through monthly bills by the people who use the water – farmers, homeowners, industrialists. An exception is for so-called public benefits, such as fish protection and recreation. Everyone pays for it.

Now, Republicans are proposing that the state general fund pony up with money collected from all taxpayers from Crescent City to Calexico.

It seemed like a bad idea to me at first. Why should taxpayers in Orange County pay to irrigate excessive almond orchards in the arid San Joaquin Valley, especially when most of the crop is exported to Asia?

But now I think the “everyone pays” concept should be seriously considered. Water scarcity is a statewide problem that affects almost everyone – not just farmers, but many small low-income communities that lack safe drinking water, and industries across the state.

Senate Republicans will spend a surplus of $2.6 billion on building a $3.9 billion site reservoir in Colusa County. The state has already pledged $836 million and the federal government $80 million.

That amount of state money is probably unrealistic.

But the GOP wants to spend $685 million to repair four water canals in the San Joaquin Valley, including the 444-mile California Aqueduct that carries northern waters to Southern California.

These canals have been badly damaged mainly by excessive pumping of ground water by farmers. This has submerged the land by several feet in some places, causing severe damage to the canals and reducing their capacity by up to 60%.

Newsom and the legislature earmarked $200 million last year for repairs – already tinkering with the “user pay” concept.

Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, a Democrat, has a Senate-passed bill that would spend $785 million in General Fund money to repair the canals.

So there should be room for bipartisan bargaining.

If it’s too apolitical for Democratic leaders, they may hold the idea to themselves. Republicans are used to it.

George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.