State’s Democratic politicians scramble to work on economy 

It’s the economy, stupid.

Those words, coined by James Carville as he was managing Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency in 1992, encapsulate a basic axiom of practical politics, to wit: When the economy is hurting, it preoccupies voters, and politicians ignore it at their peril.

And that, in a nutshell, is why California’s Democratic politicians are suddenly and publicly pledging concrete steps to improve the state’s business climate.

California remains mired in its worst recession since the Great Depression, with its 12 percent unemployment the second-highest in the nation, with well over 2 million idled workers, and with a drumbeat of complaints from business that it’s hostile to job-creating investment.

When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his latest proposal for business tax breaks that he said would restore business confidence. Soon afterward, the Legislature’s two top Democrats stood with business leaders to announce legislation that they said would make regulatory rule-making more relevant and transparent.

Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, said it would “send a message to investors and employers that California is serious” and “put an end to the drumbeat that California is not friendly to business.”

Not likely.

Republicans denounced it as tokenism and slapped Democrats for killing GOP business climate bills, while business executives saw it as merely a first step.

Their complaints include not only taxation and California’s dense regulatory thicket, but laws they say encourage frivolous litigation and the state’s chronic transportation, water-supply and education deficiencies.

Business would like to have something like what developers of a proposed professional football stadium in downtown Los Angeles are seeking as the 2011 legislative session grinds toward adjournment next week — a much-streamlined CEQA review process to reduce delays. This issue was one impediment to a bipartisan budget deal, and it is also a big hurdle for any L.A. football stadium deal.

Ironically, as Steinberg and his Assembly counterpart, Speaker John A. Perez, were pledging regulatory reform on the third floor of the Capitol, two floors below, the Assembly was taking up a bill, backed by unions and opposed by business, that would expand CEQA’s reach by imposing new conditions on “superstores” such as Wal-Mart.

The bill, which had already cleared the Senate, was approved by the Assembly on a party-line vote — Democrats voting yes, and Republicans no — and sent to Brown’s desk.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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