With a cash-stuffed state treasury, a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and a partner in new Gov. Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic lawmakers appear poised for a productive year in the Capitol.
They will be tackling a host of tough issues including the ongoing threat of catastrophic wildfires, bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility, an epic housing crisis and persistent homelessness.
The five Democratic legislators who represent parts of Sonoma County — state Senators Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire and Assembly members Jim Wood, Marc Levine and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry — also have priorities of their own, including education, senior services, the plight of immigrants and ramping up green energy production.
Senator Bill Dodd
Bill Dodd, the dean of the county delegation with 19 years in Napa County and state office, said Democrats will take cues from Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor who now leads the nation’s most populous state.
Dodd, a prolific Napa-based legislator, said he is comfortable with that relationship, noting that he collaborated a dozen years ago, as chairman of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, with then-Mayor Newsom on the massive Presidio Parkway project.
“I really think Gavin has so much equity, trust, in the Legislature,” Dodd said, likening it to the relationship between lawmakers and former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Democrats hold supermajorities with 61 of 80 Assembly seats and 28 of the Senate’s 40 seats, with two vacancies. Those numbers enable the Democrats to pass tax increases, craft statewide bond measures and override a governor’s veto without Republican support.
Unlike Brown, Newsom is not a Sacramento political insider or as closely tied to the rank and file of the state Democratic Party. The Sonoma County lawmakers, however, gave Newsom kudos for the proposed $209 billion state budget he submitted last month, pumped up by tax revenues from a robust economy.
“It gives Gavin the opportunity to get things done,” Dodd said during a recent interview in his Vacaville district office.
The budget sets aside $4.8 billion to build reserves and another $4.8 billion to pay down unfunded state employee retirement liabilities.
The fate of the high-speed Los Angeles-to-San Francisco train, a pet project of Brown’s now billions of dollars over budget, is now in fresh hands.
Dodd said lawmakers are expecting a report on the project and acknowledged it has grown increasingly unpopular. But, he said, California will have 10 million more residents two decades from now and the state’s airports are “already at capacity.”
One thing that won’t change, Dodd said, is California’s commitment to the Affordable Care Act, which he said has lowered the state’s uninsured rate from over 17 percent to about 7 percent. The senator said he wants to bring the rate down to zero, even if it means a protracted fight with the Trump administration.
“You can take that to the bank,” Dodd said.
Dodd, who co-chaired the legislative committee that drafted a bill last year allowing PG&E to tap ratepayers for some 2017 wildfire liabilities, said there is no reason to extend the benefit to 2018, which featured another wave of deadly and devastating fires, ending with the Camp fire in Butte County, the worst in state history.
PG&E, which is now in bankruptcy proceedings, can sell its gas division for $10 billion to $15 billion to offset its wildfire costs, he said.