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MORAIN: More transparency needed on trailer bills

No matter whether it's called budget dust, Christmas tree ornaments or bling, the massive $145 billion state budget and 22 trailer bills that implement it are crammed with stuff, much of it added with little public airing.

There's $2 million for an Anne Frank exhibit at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, $2 million for a trauma recovery program in San Francisco, and $10 million as partial payment for a fish screen between the Sacramento River and the Yolo Bypass.

University of California, Riverside, is getting $15 million to open a medical school, now that a Democrat, Sen. Richard Roth, represents UC Riverside. We could use more physicians. There's $5 million for a new pier in La Jolla. Everyone likes piers.

There's nothing wrong with spending tax money. That's what it's for. But the 2013-14 budget is noteworthy because after years of cutting, there's money to spread around. In a $145 billion budget and a $96.3 billion general fund, legislators, staffers and lobbyists can find $2 million in the couch cushions. No one would ever miss it.

California's budget has ceased being a train wreck. Budget fights don't last long into the summer. Voters approved a 2010 initiative permitting legislators to approve spending plans by a majority vote. That's an improvement.

Last year, voters also agreed to a $6 billion-a-year tax hike, giving Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both houses and control the entire budget process, more to spend. It's much more pleasant to spend than to cut.

"Money is better than no money," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

This new budget also is remarkable for policy shifts required by budget trailer bills, some of which run in excess of 700 pages. In many instances, budget trailer bill language was jammed through the Legislature with little time for hearings, which was the point. And that is not good.

Gov. Jerry Brown was especially aggressive in his use of the budget to shape policy and government. In one small example, he won the right to appoint a paid chairman of the board that will oversee his criminal justice realignment. The measure also exempts board members from normal conflict-of-interest provisions that could preclude them from having financial stakes in contracts they issue. Perhaps the governor has someone in mind.

This year's budget is striking for the personal nature of some policy provisions. Lawmakers used the budget to take a whack at the owners of Honda Center in Anaheim, where owners angered organized labor by firing unionized workers.


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