With the state budget more-or-less completed for the time being, Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators must turn to other business, particularly to three very big and very immediate issues water, pension reform and the bullet train that may be even more contentious than the budget.
What the politicians do has potential effects beyond the issues themselves by influencing the November election, particularly the fate of competing tax increases.
Water An $11 billion water bond was placed on the ballot back when the state's economy was doing well, providing funds for upgrading the statewide water system, including a couple of new reservoirs and habitat improvements in the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in support of a tunnel beneath the Delta.
However, the bond is loaded with pork, and Gov. Jerry Brown rightfully wants it to be slenderized and changed to make water users pay for more costs, rather than place new burdens on a deficit-ridden state budget. He's also concerned that having it on the same ballot as his big tax increase could make voters less likely to pass the latter.
That said, removing it from the ballot would be a big step back in water policy, and without its proceeds, the tunnel project could be stalled indefinitely.
Pensions Brown has warned legislators that if they don't reform public pensions, undoing some of the benefits that were expanded 13 years ago, angry voters will be less likely to endorse new taxes, but he's been willing, so far, to let the Legislature deal with the issue.
A two-house conference committee has been appointed. But majority Democrats are writing a pension reform bill in private, and while they insist it will be comprehensive, they must factor in the opposition of public employee unions to anything more than superficial changes, such as limiting "spiking."
Democrats are beholden to the unions for campaign funds, but failure to enact significant pension reforms would, as Brown warns, hand opponents of tax increases a ready-made argument to voters. Therefore, it's a big-time gut check.
Bullet train Brown wants the Legislature to appropriate the state's share for a $6 billion initial stretch of track in the San Joaquin Valley, saying that linking the northern and southern halves of the state with a 200-mph train would have great economic benefits.
However, there's some reluctance among Democratic senators because of the High-Speed Rail Authority's missteps, there are lawsuits from local governments and landowners along the route, there's no certainty of federal financing beyond the initial segment, and recent polls say voters now have turned against the project.
If the Legislature approves Brown's bullet train money, opponents of his tax increase will probably use it as an issue.