Senate Democrats eye basics: Roads, schools, health care and energy

When I was teaching, the week we returned from our holiday vacations
(substitute “interim”) was a good time to reaffirm the goals and ground
rules we established when the term began, and to look ahead at what might be
accomplished before Spring Fever sets in (substitute “election”).

In that spirit, if you’ll spit out your gum and stop talking to your
neighbor, here are some thoughts on where the California State Senate stands
this first week of 2006.

As we’ve shown over the past couple months, the Senate is committed to
getting government back to basics. People are tired of manufactured issues
and want us to focus on what can actually affect and improve their lives.

Following a frank and lengthy discussion, Senate Democrats have focused our
efforts on four key areas: transportation, education, health care and
energy. The challenges range from making sure there are enough qualified
teachers in our classrooms to preparing our public health system for
epidemics and emergencies, to jump-starting stalled transportation projects
so folks won’t be stuck in traffic so much. The details of our back to
basics proposals would swamp the space Capitol Weekly has graciously
provided me here, but you can check them out yourself at our website (I never have stopped enjoying handing out homework).

One “basic” area I must get into, in a week where flood and the threat of
flood swept through California, is that we have a narrow opportunity to get
behind a responsible, priorities-based infrastructure bond. February 24
will be the one-year anniversary of my introducing such a bond, SB 1024. So
we’re already a year behind where we could have been. April 18 is another
key infrastructure anniversary–100 years since the San Francisco earthquake
and fire. Let’s hope by then we’ll have some evidence to show that we’ve
learned something in 100 years about the wisdom of being prepared.

Back to basics won’t mean business as usual. We will be making sure when it
comes to tough problems, that innovation and efficiency help drive the
solutions. When it comes to taxpayer dollars, we will be making sure that
they are spent appropriately and effectively. Administrators whose agencies
receive and direct state funds will have ample opportunity this year before
Senate policy committees and budget subcommittees to show us whether or not
that’s the case.

Before the bell rings (substitute “word limit”) I want to emphasize a couple
points about the nature of the Senate. Much has been written, commentated
and blogged recently about how–or if–the legislature and governor can work
together this year. From my point of view, I’m enjoying a cooperative and
cordial relationship with the governor and his new team. I want our strong
partnership with our colleagues in the Assembly to continue. I wouldn’t
expect any deal for the sake of having a deal, though–any agreement must be
the best we can do for the public. Conversely, we won’t block a deal that’s
truly good for the public just for the sake of politics.

So as we work to get California back to basics in 2006, the Senate will
continue to strive to be a place where the rough and tumble of politics can
meet common sense and common courtesy to build toward the common good.
Thus endeth the lesson.

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