Democrats to Balance Supermajority Power and Budget Needs with Voter Scrutiny

Posted on 18 December 2012

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By Christopher Allen
California Progress Report

A piece in the Sunday New York Times by Adam Nagourney highlighted the new supermajority status of California's Democratic Party, and the fact that lawmakers and the executive branch are wary of the potential voter backlash if Democrats flex their new political muscle too aggressively on issues of new taxation aimed at closing the state's still-considerable revenue gap. Despite a legislature long-dominated by the Democratic Party, this degree control by one party has not been seen in the state for over three-quarters of a century. As Nagourney notes:

This does not appear to be a passing advantage. Even Republicans say that changes in electoral demographics mean that, with the exception of a few brief lapses caused by vacancies, Democrats could hold a supermajority at least through the end of the decade.

Yet in the "be careful what you wish for" department, Democrats are beginning to confront the struggles and complications that come with being in charge of the store. This authority came at least two years earlier than most Democrats had projected. And it is unleashing years of pent-up Democratic desires - to roll back spending cuts, approve a bond issue to rebuild the state's water system, amend the state's tax code, revamp California's governance system - that had been largely checked by the Republican minority.

With their new handle on the funding mechanisms, Democrats are now being approached to restore funding to recently defunded agencies, organizations and programs, reports Chris Megarian in Monday's Los Angeles Times.

Children's advocates want day-care centers inspected more often. Dentists want their poor patients' coverage restored. Universities want funds to prevent further tuition increases, replace old computers and perform maintenance. Cities say the state should let them keep more of the money left over from defunct redevelopment agencies.

Governor Jerry Brown, however, has indicated he'd prefer a more conservative approach, particularly since the state budget still sports a roughly $1.9 billion spending gap - considerably improved from budgets of recent past years, but still far from a balancing of the books.

President Pro Tem of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), has also indicated cautious pragmatism. But Nagourney at the New York Times says many Democrats do wish to address the shortfalls that years of legislative gridlock have produced:

Under California law, a two-thirds vote is required to put initiatives before voters to change the State Constitution or raise taxes. That requirement is an outgrowth of Proposition 13, the property tax reduction initiative passed in 1978.

Many Democrats said a top priority was figuring out a way to remove deep spending cuts made to education and other state services, which could mean finding new revenue.

Nagourney, however, quotes Mr. Steinberg as saying that the responsibility that comes with a political supermajority will not stop Democrats from doing what is necessary in the coming sessions.

"I believe in the two-party system. But are we prepared to use our supermajority if the Republicans choose not to participate? Yes."