George Doesn’t Look in Gift Horse’s Mouth

You don’t get to be chief justice without being a) a diplomat and b) someone who can see both sides of almost any situation. Ronald George displayed both qualities Friday, saying he is “not at all disappointed? with the $1.8 billion set aside for court construction in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mammoth $222 billion infrastructure spending plan.

Almost $2 billion over 10 years isn’t chump change. Unless maybe you consider that it’s less than 3 percent of the planned $68 billion in bond sales, and only a fraction of the $10 billion California’s courthouses need.

True, the state’s supreme supreme agreed on Friday, “but our needs extend over many years. So to get this amount at this particular stage would enable us to have a very good start on meeting the critical issues that we face in terms of providing safe and secure facilities.?

Just last month, George told a gathering of reporters that the governor was “preaching my sermon? in a conversation the two had about courts’ place in California’s infrastructure needs. The chief justice was hoping for enough to avoid pursuing a courts-only bond later this year. And apparently it was.

“I’d rather have a smaller initial part of it as part of the governor’s package than just a stand-alone for just court issues the way we were proceeding before,? George said Friday.

The courts may be lucky to get even that.

“The practical reality is that the needs of education, transportation and housing and health care may receive a higher priority status in the ongoing discussions between the administration and the legislature,? said Sen. Joe Dunn, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Santa Ana Democrat said he was “ecstatic? that courthouse construction “made it on to the administration’s radar screen? but worried that it won’t have the constituency of other programs popular with the public.

“The judicial branch is going to have to involve itself more in the legislative process this year than it ever has in the past,? Dunn said.

The lobbying will have to start soon. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez released his “framework? for infrastructure bonds. His “priority areas? did not include courthouse construction.

— Cheryl Miller

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