Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, invited me to sit down with her for about a half-hour this afternoon between her Bay Area events.
After Bass accepted an award from Girls Inc. for her work with youth, we met in the oddly named “Bridal Room” at the new downtown Oakland Catholic cathedral. (We’re pretty sure it’s a room intended for brides and their bridesmaids to prepare for a wedding.)
As expected, Bass focused heavily on her campaign to persuade Californians to pass the six ballot measures on the May 19 special election she helped negotiate. The measures were part of the Legislature’s protracted and difficult budget settlement early this year. (Click here to link to the independent Legislative Analysts Office’ conclusions about the measures.)
“If we don’t pass these measures, when we begin to negotiate next year’s budget, we will have a $14 billion hole instead of an $8 billion hole,” Bass said.
People have become confused, she said, over critics’ statements that measures 1D and 1E will take money from children and mental health programs funded through Props. 10 and 63. Bass said the new measures will tap into the prior propositions’ reserve funds and divert the money into very same programs that the propositions were intended to serve: core children and mental health programs.
“If these measure fail, we will have to cut children and mental health programs,” Bass said. “We are not using all the reserves but some of that money, which will otherwise just sit in the reserves.”
She also defended some of the proposed corporate tax credits that critics have said will cost the state tens of millions of dollars such as the Hollywood movie tax credit.
“I can’t defend all the tax credits we negotiated,” Bass said.
But the movie industry has been slowing moving out of California, she said, and the state needs to take action or lose it in the same way it lost the the aerospace industry.
While the measures contain plenty for everyone to criticize, she compared the state’s fiscal morass to a house on fire.
“When the house is on fire, the first thing you do is put out the flames before you start trying to rebuild the house,” she said.
Bass also emphasized a need for the Legislature to tackle some of the state’s other big problems such as water, healthcare, the tax code, energy and the prison system.
She and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg issued a joint statement earlier today and vowed to work on comprehensive plan to solve the state’s water crisis, particularly the problems of the California Delta.
And Bass says she will pursue the creation of independent commissions to study and recommend reforms of the state’s parole system and its criminal laws. As an example, she wants to see reforms of laws that criminalize and label as sex offenders teen-agers who engage in so-called “sexting.”
On her personal legislative agenda, Bass has introduced a bill that would extend publicly funded services to foster youth through age 21. The current law cuts foster children off at age 18, a time when very few young people are ready support themselves.
She also plans to work on a ballot measure in 2010 that would create a special fund to fully pay for foster care services. The money would come from new taxes on candy and snack foods, which would generate an estimated $500 million a year.
Bass is running out time to finish her agenda. She terms out in 2010 and has no other publicly elected position on her radar.
“But I will be involved in public policy somehow,” she said. “I have been involved in public policy all of my life.”