Will the Courts Bond Become a Hot Potato?

What’s in a name? At the state capitol, the name of an author on a bill indicates who will shepherd the legislation through the law-making process and often, more importantly, whether the bill has a snowball’s chance of being adopted.

So it was a little surprising Wednesday to see who Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tapped to carry his $2.2 billion courthouse construction bond bill. (It’s actually $1.8 billion for courts and another $400 million for state park buildings and mental health facilities).

On the Assembly side, Democrat Dave Jones will carry AB 1831, which would authorize a $1.2 billion bond measure this year and another $1 billion measure in 2010. Jones seems a natural pick as chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. But on the Senate side, the governor chose Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, to handle a nearly identical courts-bond bill, SB 1163.

Now, Ackerman is no slouch. As leader of the Senate Republicans and vice-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he certainly carries some sway. But why didn’t the governor recruit Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, to carry his bond bill? Dunn chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is generally considered one of the court administration’s biggest allies. Dunn said last week that he was “ecstatic? that the governor was proposing $1.8 billion for new and improved courthouses.

The official line is that the governor wants bipartisan support for his proposals and, in all but one case, chose Democrats to sponsor his bond bills in the Assembly and Republicans to lead the charge in the Senate.

A more cynical theory being floated in legislative gossip is that Senate Democrats, a more liberal group than their Assembly counterparts, refused to sponsor the governor’s bills. They fear the administration will attach all sorts of pro-business, anti-labor provisions that will anger unions, one of the Democrats’ biggest supporters and potential benefactors of big public works projects, the reasoning goes. If the Democrats can stall Schwarzenegger’s bond bills in the Senate, they may be able to persuade the governor, running for re-election in November, to accept their preferred bond proposals.

Or so the capitol chatter goes …

— Cheryl Miller

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