COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JIM SCHMIDT

California needs a bi-partisan team effort

Since the era of Gov. Pete Wilson ended in Sacramento in 1998 our state has had problems, starting with the election of Gray Davis.

Davis had been Gov. Jerry Brown's chief of staff. Davis was re-called soon after the start of his second term and our current governor won the vote. Things have gotten worse even after the re-call.

I served as Gov. Reagan's appointee in 1967 as assistant secretary/chief deputy of the Business & Transportation Agency, which oversaw four transportation departments and seven business regulatory departments. On my return to San Diego in 1969 Reagan appointed me to both the State Transportation Board and the California Toll Bridge Authority. I was a holdover member of the Transportation Board during Brown's first three years before both of those boards and the State Highway Commission were merged by new state legislation into the California Transportation Commission.

During my time serving in Sacramento and then my continued trips to Sacramento through 1974 as Reagan's appointee, I was happy to see the bi-partisan teamwork between Republicans and Democrats that were real pluses. Reagan became well liked by both parties.

Hugh Burns, president pro-tem of the senate, was co-chair of Reagan's re-election campaign in 1970. In 1968 he was acting governor while Reagan and Lt. Gov. Bob Finch attended the Republican Convention. Richard Nixon won the nomination at the convention and his friend, Finch, went to Washington on his staff in January 1969.

While Reagan was at the convention some of the legislative bills that had been passed were still on Reagan's desk for decisions. I was at the meeting when Reagan said to Burns "Hughie, you are acting governor, so go ahead and decide what to do on the bills I have not had time to review."

In Reagan's absence Burns then vetoed a bad bill authored by Democratic Sen. Mosconi of San Francisco. If Reagan would have vetoed the bill he would have been criticized.

Democratic Sen. Randy Collier of Yreka, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee for over 20 years, said Reagan was the greatest governor he had ever seen. Reagan had me meet with Sen. Collier each week and tell him what we were doing.

Local Democratic Senator and Assemblyman Wadie Deddeh became a major teammate with Reagan on legislation. Deddeh was chairman of both Assembly and Senate Transportation committees.

Reagan used to pick-up the phone himself and call a Democratic legislator and then take the elevator and go upstairs in the Capitol building to meet in the legislator's office and get their input. Reagan got people to work together for great results. Let's hope that Gov. Brown develops teamwork with Republicans and reverses the terrible problems created under his two predecessors.

Gov. Jerry Brown had a bad start in transportation. Unfortunately, in 1975 he brought Andriana Gianturco from the East Coast to be the director of CalTrans. She was anti-highway and drove the CalTrans staff nuts. Fortunately, she was not there for the full eight years. It helped to make things better when Brown, in 1977, appointed a sharp, smart and nice person, Lynne Schenk, to be secretary of Business & Transportation. Lynne started to turn some things around although it was difficult. Lynne lives here in San Diego with her husband. Hugh Friedman, an outstanding law professor at the University of San Diego. She serves as an Advisory Board member of the San Diego Highway Development Association, which has been in place in San Diego since 1935.

In the Nov. 2 election the need to stop the continued diversion, including the borrowing, of state funds from transportation projects and local re-development funds (like CCDC funding in the city of San Diego) was approved on a 2 to 1 vote in favor of Prop 22. With Prop 22 in place the diversion of funds will be difficult but they always seem to find a way in Sacramento to do things like Gov. Pat Brown did in June 1966 when the legislature was part-time. It was up-graded to full-time in January 1967 when Reagan started as governor after beating Brown. It was then discovered what had happened on June 30, 1966 when the budget was passed: In order to make it look like the budget was balanced, Pat Brown and the state treasurer picked up paper income, without cash, by shifting the state to the accrual system of accounting. This made it look like the budget was balanced by using the cash from the State Highway Fund.

This diverted a lot of highway projects. Other budget problems surfaced. In his first year, Reagan had to reluctantly support a tax increase to balance the 1967/68 budget and pay-back the highway funds. No one had heard of or thought of the "sunset" (ending date) for the tax increase. The result was that after the state started to have surpluses Reagan could not get the legislative support to reduce the taxes. When Jerry Brown became governor in 1975 he then received a large cash surplus when he took office.

So, in summary, let's hope we have teamwork in Sacramento. With Prop 22 it will be hard to find ways to divert transportation and re-development funds.

Republicans may have to agree on a tax increase with a "sunset" in a spending reduction compromise. Labor, business and local governments need to be teammates and not adversaries. In remembering Reagan, it has been said, "let's win one for the "Gipper" (his nickname in a movie). Now, let's win one for the taxpayers and the public.

Bring back bi-partisanship. California's financial crisis needs and must have teamwork. Reduce the giant bureaucracy in Sacramento.

Use a "sunset" for the end ASAP of any needed tax increase to get a budget compromise.


Schmidt is a retired banker and attorney who is active with the chamber of commerce and in civic affairs in transportation, housing and sports. He also serves on two public boards and was Gov. Reagan's appointee to three positions in state government.

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1 UserComments
Carl Tatus 10:25am November 25, 2010

Mr. Jim Schmidt is absolutely right. It is time to think of what if best for the entire State first; rather than politicians displaying their worthless egos. So you got elected, you still owe your allegiance to the State as a whole. Extremeism on either side has never accomplished anything.