With a unprecedented supermajority that now gives it unbridled powers, the Democratic Party in California is moving to enact sweeping tax and spending legislation that will stand out among the 50 states in 2013.
It takes two-thirds of the California Legislature to enact a host of important legislation in this state, and for years the Republican Party has been able to easily frustrate Democratic ambitions.
But with a swell of electoral victories in November, The New York Times reports, Democrats have now crossed that boundary and control two-thirds of both the Senate and the Assembly, giving them the kind of unfettered power that no party has had for 80 years.
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.
But Democrats also are beginning to confront the struggles and complications that come with being in charge of the store, the Times reports.
Leaders are facing years of pent-up desires among the grassroots to roll back spending cuts, approve a bond issue to rebuild the state’s water system, amend the state’s tax code and revamp California’s governance system.
And there are concerns from Democrats that the situation may inspire an overreach that could make the party’s reign brief.
The center of gravity of the Democratic Party will be restraint, but some people can’t help themselves,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview with the Times. “The supermajority is not a permanent condition. It’s something that can be lost far more easily than it can be gained.”
Democrats have already proposed reinstating an automobile registration fee that was repealed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That fee was a rallying point of what many saw as excessive taxation here; its elimination created a $4 billion revenue shortfall.
But the move proved very unpopular and they retreated.
“Democrats have unrestricted, unchecked power in the executive and the legislative branch today — and they have not had that for decades,” said James L. Brulte, a former state lawmaker running for state Republican leader. “If you are a Democrat, the good news is that your party is 100 percent in charge of state government. If you’re a Democrat, the bad news is that you don’t get to blame anybody else if things go wrong. So Democrats own it.”
“A supermajority is problematic for California,” said Connie Conway, the Assembly Republican leader. “I hope voters understand what they’ve done. I expect a full-out assault on the taxpayers of California.”
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.
“We do need to take stock,” said Ellen M. Corbett, the Senate Democratic leader. “We do need to take a look at things we have cut that may impact our ability to grow the economy.”
Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat, proposed putting on the ballot an initiative that would allow school districts and cities to pass a parcel tax increase with 55 percent of voters, down from the two-thirds requirement in Proposition 13. Lawmakers said they were also reviewing business tax exemptions they agreed to in order to win Republican votes.
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