California legislators earned pretty good marks in 2013, passing a budget on time and resisting temptations to spend a projected surplus before it actually materializes.
They also took steps to overhaul an outdated system for funding public schools and to address prison crowding.
However, when it comes to political reform, state lawmakers, like their counterparts in Washington, deserve no better than an incomplete on their report cards. Bills announced with great fanfare at the beginning of the year languished when the legislative session wrapped up in September.
That inaction stands out — and not just because 2014 is an election year.
As lawmakers return to Sacramento this week, one of their colleagues is standing trial in a Los Angeles courtroom on voter fraud and perjury charges, and another is the target of an FBI bribery investigation.
In the voter fraud case, prosecutors say state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, didn't live in the district where he was elected in 2008. He was re-elected in 2012 and denies wrongdoing.
An FBI affidavit, obtained by the cable news network Al Jazeera America, details about $80,000 in payments to state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, from an undercover agent posing as a movie producer looking for tax breaks. Calderon was subsequently stripped of his committee assignments, although he has not been charged with a crime.
These criminal cases don't prove that corruption is widespread in state government. They do, however, fuel justifiable public cynicism about a political system fueled by deep pocketed donors, many of whom are simultaneously seeking to influence the outcome of legislative and regulatory decisions.
Many of the stalled bills came in response to a rising tide of anonymous money in the 2012 election cycle.
One would tighten disclosure requirements for nonprofit groups, another would require candidates and initiative sponsors to identify their biggest donors in advertisements, mailers and robo-calls. Yet another would make it more difficult to shield the identity of donors by funneling campaign money through multiple committees.
These measures deserve another look this year.
So does a measure introduced by one of Sonoma County's representatives, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, that would prohibit legislators from voting on any bill until the public had 72 hours to review its contents.
Money plays an outsized role in politics, and that's not likely to change. So, just as disclosure laws help voters sort out who is behind campaign messages, robust transparency requirements protect the public from special-interest legislation.
Wolk's SCA 10, which requires both legislative and voter approval, didn't even get a committee hearing in 2013. To help promote trust in government, legislators should let the public vote on SCA 10 in 2014.