Swanson explains his budget votes

I went through the state Legislature’s database today to see how all of our Bay Area lawmakers voted on each of the more than two dozen budget bills passed late last week. It turns out that Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, voted against at least 14 of the bills, more than anyone else in the region.

It’s not the first time he has bucked his party’s leadership: Swanson was stripped of his Assembly Labor and Employment Committee chairmanship in March after defying Assembly Speaker Karen Bass by voting against parts of the budget-and-special-election package the Big Five had pounded out in February.

Apparently, for Swanson, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

“A number of us cast votes that reflected our consciences and our constituencies,” he told me today. “The reason why it (the budget agreement) didn’t sit well with me is that if we’re being honest with the people of California, this was as close to an all-cuts budget in the series of budgets we’ve produced.”

That all-cuts approach is what the Republican caucus wanted, he said, and if they wanted it, they had to be made to vote for it.

“If I cast a vote for something based on the caucus asking me to cast a vote versus my constituency, it allowed a Republican member to hide their real feelings about it. I felt they should own this budget… I’m not giving them any cover on it,” he said. “If they want to raid local counties and cities, they have to vote for it.”

Any Republican proudly proclaiming that he or she didn’t vote to raise taxes as part of this deal is making “a disingenuous statement,” Swanson charged. “What they have done is avoided responsibility for raising fees and taxes and pushed that onto the counties and the cities.”

“There are no free lunches, and there is no way around our taking care of the safety net,” he said – squeeze spending down in one area, and the demand for services will cause a budget bulge somewhere else.

And anyway, he said, “the serious work is still yet to be done” – he’s heard projections that California will have another budget shortfall of as much as $6 billion by January as the economy continues to struggle. “At some point as a Legislature and a governor, we’re going to have to do things to actually fix the structural budget deficit in California.”

Swanson said he believes California, as a “donor state” which sends to the federal government about $50 billion more per year than it gets back, can and will do more to work with the Obama Administration to secure the Golden State’s fair share. But that won’t be a substitute for true reform, he said, and that involves changing the state constitution so a simple legislative majority can approve the budget rather than the two-thirds vote required now.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Allen Payton

    How did DeSaulnier and Buchanan vote on the budget bills?

  • Josh Richman

    Allen — Lisa is working right now on a blog post about that, exactly… stay tuned…

  • Elwood

    For a minute there, before reading to the bottom of the post, I thought Swanson gets it.

    I should have known better.

    All the big spenders want to do away with the 2/3 requirement which interferes with their big spending plan. And while we’re at it let’s get some free money from Uncle Sugar!

    Here’s a clue for Swanson and the other pathetic dimmiecrats: Reduce spending to match revenues!

    There now! That wasn’t too hard was it?

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Mr Swanson: unless a big state has lots of federal installations, such as military bases, it will be a “donor” to Uncle Sam. Too bad California generates so much wealth, huh?

  • rich mckone

    Lawmakers could find billions in savings in the prison system budget if they were willing to face the correctional employee unions! They could save $2.1 billion by simply increasing correctional contract beds from the current 3% to 10% of capacity, like Texas. Each contract bed saves $30,283 in annual operating costs and avoids spending about $306,000 for construction of a prison bed. It also avoids any early inmate release.

    They could save an additional $500 million or so annually by passing a community corrections act (CCA) authorizing the state to contract with counties for parole supervision. Under a CCA, with criminal courts rather than the Board of Prison Terms dealing with technical parole violations, violation rates would return to standard levels, saving $.5 billion annually.

  • Arne Simonsen

    Mr. Swanson said: “There are no free lunches….”, but that is exactly what he wanted to have – more “free lunches” and more entitlements for his constituents.

    And, of course, he wants someone else to pay for it.

  • Connected

    Thank you, Sandre! I’m sorry your conscience cost you the committee seat but THANK YOU for telling and acting on the truth.