In the wake of Lieutenant Governor, John Garamendi's election to Congress, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to appoint someone to fill this statewide elected position. The Office of Lieutenant Governor is important to the State of California -- he or she is, among other things, President of the State Senate, a Regent of the University of California system, a Trustee of the California State University system, a member of the State Lands Commission, the Ocean Protection Council and the Governor's Emergency Council, and Chairman of the California Commission for Economic Development.
I firmly believe that the Governor should be careful and thoughtful about this appointment. This decision should not be rushed, as some have suggested. It should not be political. In fact, it should not be now.
According to the California Constitution, the Governor may appoint a replacement for the Lieutenant Governor that must be approved by a majority of both Houses of the Legislature within 90 days. There is no specified timeframe in which the Governor must make his appointment. Additionally, a clear line of succession exists within California. Should the Governor leave the state for any reason or fall ill, authority would fall to the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate followed by the Speaker of the State Assembly.
Speculation about whom the Governor may appoint has become a favorite topic amongst California's political hacks and policy wonks. Many suspect that likely candidates are several sitting members of the Legislature -- perhaps as a reward for a job well done or to advance the Governor's agenda via the Lieutenant Governor's numerous memberships.
However, just this week, the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) released its annual Fiscal Outlook report. Not surprisingly, the state's non-partisan budget expert is predicting another $20.7 billion budget deficit for 2010-11. Unfortunately, the state's operating shortfall is expected to proliferate until at least 2014-15, when economists expect the state's fiscal situation will finally begin to improve.
Now is clearly not the time for politically-motivated appointments -- especially those that will yield added costs through a domino of special elections. If a sitting Assemblymember or Senator were appointed to the post, the cost to local jurisdictions to hold a special election for his or her replacement could be between $1.5 and $3 million (for an average-sized county -- not Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco). If the Governor were to appoint a sitting statewide elected official to this "second in command" post, the cost to the state to fill the vacated statewide seat could be upwards of $100 million.
Clearly, the LAO's budget estimate should serve as a wake-up call to all Californians -- and especially the Governor. In prior years, the Governor has both minimized the state's fiscal problems and tried the "stick" over the "carrot" approach with the Legislature through the use of clever movie-style puns and name-calling. If, this year, he wanted to try a different approach he could begin by delaying this appointment until shortly before one of the next regularly-scheduled elections in either June or November of 2010. Not only would this save the cost of the likely special election that would be needed, it could save California between $500,000 and $1 million in costs to operate the Office of the Lieutenant Governor (depending upon when the seat was ultimately filled).
While $3 million seems like pocket change when viewed through the lens of a $20+ billion budget crisis, it is clear that every penny counts. While $3 million may not pay for a revamp of the state's prison system, for the restructuring of our education system, or even for a struggling hospital to remain open, it is nonetheless meaningful money. $3 million has the ability to provide 100,000 textbooks to at-risk or poverty-stricken elementary school students, upwards of 7,000 immunizations for children, or 1.5 million meals to California's elderly and disabled population through the Meals on Wheels program.
While the Legislature debates which populations from whom to withhold benefits, which low-level offenders to release from prisons, which public parks or beaches to close, and which teachers, doctors, or public safety officers to cut from the state's payrolls, the Governor should use this opportunity to set an important example and show that every dollar counts.
Follow Pedro Nava on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Pedro Nava