Assembly speaker vows action on public pensions, 'regulatory reform'
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) said Wednesday that the Legislature would end its two-year session this month by passing measures to overhaul the state's public pension system and enact a series of "regulatory reforms" to make California more attractive to businesses.
He said he hopes that a combination of "smart cuts and smart investments" will spur voters to approve billions of dollars in tax hikes in November to balance the state's books.
Speaking at a Capitol news conference, Perez boasted about past achievements -- delivering on-time state budgets, approving funding for California's high-speed rail project, passing protections for homeowners from foreclosure and aggressive bank practices -- but provided few details about some of largest items on the legislative agenda in the final weeks of the session.
On pensions, he pledged to deliver "comprehensive action" that goes above and beyond the 12-point plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, but he declined to discuss specifics. On business regulations, he said lawmakers would likely consider legislation as part of "an ongoing effort to modernize our regulatory system so that it more accurately reflects real-world realities."
On the list is the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
Perez said he opposed a proposal being circulated around the Capitol that would exempt from the landmark environmental law certain projects that comply with local planning and zoning codes.
"What we can't have is a place where we talk about elimination of standards that Californians hold to be important," he said. "I don’t think exemptions are a good way to go."
Perez said he had been unfairly criticized for shepherding legislation last year that allowed a football stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles to avoid drawn-out CEQA litigation. The measure, he said, maintained CEQA's standards while speeding up the legal process.
Republicans have said they hope to win additional changes to CEQA by working with Perez, who needs their votes to pass his top priority: a bill that would close what Democratic leaders call a corporate tax loophole in order to raise $1 billion for scholarships for middle-class college students in California.
The speaker said that discussions about regulatory changes were part of an effort to improve the state's business climate, not a deal for GOP votes.
"I am open to any discussion of regulatory reform that doesn't throw out our standards but that makes it easier to navigate the process and to get quicker decisions," Perez said.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Speaking at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Assembly Speaker John Perez urges passage of his measure to close what Democrats say is a corporate tax loophole and use the money for college scholarships. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press