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.