Will California's Hill Clout Mean Federal Money?
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Californians have long complained that the state sends a lot more tax money to Washington than it gets back in federal spending. But now San Francisco Congressman Nancy Pelosi is set to become Speaker of the House and several other Californians are about to take over important committees in the House and the Senate. The question is will that help California to get a little more attention on Capitol Hill.
NPR's Ina Jaffe has been checking into the possibilities.
INA JAFFE: It's not like California hasn't had clout in the current Congress. California Republicans chair six committees in the House, including Appropriations, Rules and Ways and Means. But that hasn't translated into a lot of goodies for the home state, says Larry Gurston, Political Science Professor at Cal State, San Jose.
Professor LARRY GURSTON (California State University): For the Republicans, it wasn't so much a matter of funneling so much money back to California as it was keeping taxes low.
JAFFE: Californians in the House will still chair a fair number of committees, though not the most powerful ones this time.
Mr. TIM RANSDELL (California Institute for Federal Policy Research): On the other hand, we pick up the speakership and in many people's minds the speaker trumps all.
JAFFE: Says Tim Ransdell, Executive Director of the nonpartisan California Institute for Federal Policy Research.
Mr. RANSDELL: California will be in a stronger position because there'll be respect for and fear of Nancy Pelosi.
JAFFE: California gets back just 78 cents for every dollar sent to Washington, which is why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to become the collectinator when he first took office three years ago. But he hasn't had much luck with that, and earlier this month the Republican Governor said he was glad this election had brought new blood and new ideas to Congress. H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance, says one change Schwarzenegger is expecting, a thorough overhaul of immigration policy.
Mr. H.D. PALMER (California Department of Finance): Just building a wall doesn't solve this nation's immigration problems. The governor is hopeful that when the Congress reconvenes in January they will be able to try to work together and create that kind of a comprehensive immigration policy that the Governor has advocated.
JAFFE: California's two Senators will each chair a committee. Dianne Feinstein will the head of Rules and Barbara Boxer will chair Environment and Public Works.
Mr. FRED KRUPP (Environmental Defense): Well, it is really the difference of night and day.
JAFFE: Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, says he expects that Boxer will make good on her intention to introduce legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions like the one just passed in California.
Mr. KRUPP: Senator Boxer, who has had a strong environmental record, replaces Senator Jim Inhofe, who has declared climate change the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.
JAFFE: In the next Congress, 15 percent of the House Democratic caucus will be from California. Jim Ransdell says that may give them enough clout to change some spending formulas that short change the state. Homeland security, for example.
Mr. RANSDELL: Homeland security dollars have shifted out to state and local governments in a fairly counterintuitive fashion.
JAFFE: Sounds like a euphemism.
Mr. RANDSDELL: Okay. Unfair is probably a more straightforward way of putting it.
JAFFE: Unfair, he says, because a lot of the money is doled out to the states equally, regardless of size.
Mr. RANDSDELL: In one recent count California took in about five dollars per person in the state. Wyoming took in 38, Vermont 31, Rhone Island nearly that.
JAFFE: But many Californians think a state with 36 million residents shouldn't play second fiddle to Rhode Island. Political Science professor Larry Gurston says part of California's problem, it just don't get no respect.
Professor GURSTON: You know you get east of the Rockies and people look at California like we're just a weird place. They're convinced that everybody drives a convertible. Everybody is a blond. Everybody goes to the beach with a six pack and has a dog. It just isn't that way.
JAFFE: That stereotype could change, though, if California becomes better known for sending powerful Democrats to Congress to set the agenda for the rest of the nation.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.