December Community and Government Relations Report

Community and Government Relations
December Update

Contact Tim Farley, director of government and community relations

Federal Government

The dust is still settling on the election of Barak Obama as president. The transition plans are well underway and the outline of his new administration is taking shape. As of this writing, Obama has not announced who his secretary of education or labor will be. While publicly denying any interest in serving in the administration, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, continues to be mentioned as a potential cabinet member. But as the chairman of the powerful House Education and Labor Committee, it seems doubtful he would leave the House. Miller says that college affordability will be his top agenda item in 2009.

State Government

The new legislature was sworn in on Monday, Dec. 1. As part of the reforms of 1910, California state law requires a bill must be in print for a minimum of 30 days before any action may be taken. As a result, the legislature is sworn in on the first Monday in December rather than in January when most legislative bodies reconvene. Some hold-over bills from the previous session are introduced in the California legislature in early December, and then everyone leaves town for the next month. Upon their return in January, legislators can begin to hold hearings on bills.

Due to term limits, Contra Costa County finds itself in a situation where its entire delegation is considered freshmen in their respective houses. Assembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley (14th district), and Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon (15th district), are part of the 25 new members of the legislature who have never served in either chamber. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord (7th Senate District), is new to the Senate after serving only one two-year term in the state Assembly. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch (11th district), term-limited out of the state Senate, returned to the Assembly for one final term. While not new to the Assembly, Torlakson returns as a short-termer. Since much of the real muscle in Sacramento is with the chairs of committees, it was good news for DeSaulnier that he was rewarded with a plum assignment as chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

So far, no Contra Costa Assembly member has been offered a committee chair.

State Budget

The all-too-real situation of California's ballooning budget deficit continues. Governor Schwarzenegger called a special lame-duck session of the legislature to return to Sacramento during the month of November to deal with closing the deficit. However, the constitutional deadline of the end of the legislative session prevented any meaningful action to be taken. Upon the swearing in of the new legislature, the governor called the legislature into another special session to grapple with the budget crisis. As the new Senate has 24 Democrats out of 40 members, the majority party in the upper house is three votes shy of the two-thirds margin required to pass a budget. The 80-member Assembly has 51 Democrats, again three votes short of the magic two-thirds figure. This could portend more protracted stalemates. With the deteriorating economy and budgets tightening even further, Saint Mary's will continue to monitor all budget proposals to ensure Cal Grants and student aid is protected.

Contra Costa County

Three of the five county supervisors were up for election this cycle. 2nd District Supervisor Gayle Ulkema, who represents the district that includes Saint Mary's, was unopposed for re-election and thus was deemed elected. The other two board members had heated primary campaigns. 3rd District Supervisor Mary Piepho defeated state Assembly member Guy Houston ‘84 in the June primary. After a tough primary and general election, 5th District Supervisor Federal Glover squeaked out a narrow victory for his third term.

4th District Supervisor Susan Bonilla is scheduled to become chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. This will be Bonilla's first time as chair. As the New Year begins, the county, like so many local governments, confronts growing budget deficits and looming layoffs.

The new Moraga Town Council was seated on December 10. Councilman Mike Metcalf was joined by Karen Mendonca and Howard Harpham. Vice-mayor Dave Trotter was selected as mayor and will lead the town into the next year.

January preview: More state budget updates