State Senate leader apologizes for TV blackout

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(AP) – Calling it a mistake, the leader of the state Senate apologized Monday for his office’s last-minute decision not to televise a legislative hearing that included testimony about Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative on the November ballot.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, took responsibility for last week’s TV blackout. The lawmaker said he did not want footage from the hearing to be used by tax opponents in campaign ads.

“The rational was that (I) didn’t want the hearing to become political fodder because it involves the initiatives. It was a screw up,” Steinberg told reporters before Monday’s floor session.

The decision drew public criticism and rebuke from the committee chairwoman, a fellow Democrat. Steinberg said he realized it was the wrong decision not to air the hearing on public-access television.

“I value my relationship with members of the media and with the public and have always carried myself in an open and transparent manner,” Steinberg said. “This was inconsistent with that. It was a mistake.”

He pledged that it will not happen again on his watch.

The hearing was held last Wednesday and focused on tax-related initiatives on the November ballot, including the tax increase championed by Brown and Democratic lawmakers. Brown’s initiative would temporarily raise the state sales tax by a half cent for five years and increase income taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year for seven years to help balance the state budget.

Just a few weeks ago, Steinberg said he had “a few sleepless nights” during lawmakers’ summer break worrying that pay raises given to legislative staffers could undermine support for the governor’s tax initiative.

Steinberg defended the raises to more than 1,000 legislative employees while lawmakers were making deep budget cuts. But he said he recognized they could hurt Democrats’ effort to pass a tax increase.

Opponents have used the pay raises as ammunition against the tax proposal.

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