When Sen. Lois Wolk opened a hearing of her Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday to consider four major ballot measures dealing with taxes and the state budget, she said she hoped the testimony and the factual data would help voters make rational decisions.
The hearing on Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39 was scheduled to be televised by the California Channel, but at the last second, Senate leaders blocked the broadcast. Thus it allowed only the few spectators in the hearing room and those technologically adroit enough to find the Internet audio feed to listen to the mini-debates on the measures.
Why the cutoff?
Perhaps the Senate's Democratic leader, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, didn't want to give opponents of Proposition 30, the sales and income tax hike he strongly supports, air time, especially when they were bound to criticize Steinberg's giving raises to Senate staffers.
Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association did, in fact, highlight those Senate raises during his opposition testimony on Proposition 30.
But Rhys Williams, Steinberg's spokesman, said the cutoff wasn't aimed specifically at Coupal and other tax opponents, but at everyone arguing for and against all four measures.
"It was inappropriate to provide legislative resources to promote the ballot measure campaigns of either side, and in particular to make those public-funded resources easily available for exploitation in political TV commercials," Williams said in an email. "No different to the rules that apply to legislative staff."
Yet the stated purpose of the hearing -- one required by state law, incidentally -- was to air pro and con arguments on ballot measures.
In addition to Proposition 30, whose chief sponsor is Gov. Jerry Brown, the hearing delved into its chief rival, Proposition 38, which would raise income taxes for schools, Proposition 31, which would revise state budget procedures, and Proposition 39, which would change corporate taxation and use proceeds for alternative energy projects.