Democratic lawmakers in California appear to have captured a supermajority in the state Assembly and the Senate, which will allow them to pass tax legislation without votes from Republicans.
While not all provisional and absentee ballots from Tuesday’s election have been counted, Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) conceded Wednesday that he anticipates Democrats will gain at least two additional seats in the Senate and two in the House to gain a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers, making it the first time in more than 100 years that the Democratic Party held such an advantage in Sacramento.
The state constitution allows supermajorities to vote to raise revenue through taxes and impose fees, create constitutional amendments to be voted on in the next election, and override a governor’s veto.
“Any time one party gets complete control, it’s a very high level of responsibility,” Huff told The Sacramento Bee. “With a two-thirds majority, there will be a tremendous temptation to tax our way to prosperity.”
Californians also passed Proposition 30 Tuesday, a $50 million tax initiative that raises California’s sales tax—already the highest in the nation—by a quarter percent for four years and increases income tax on wages exceeding $250,000 a year for seven years.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is nervous of how the election results will affect California residents: “Business owners are tense, they have to compete with the national and international economy and may not be able to keep up [given the new state taxes],” Vosburgh said. “We are already hemorrhaging businesses and taxpayers—all this means, with passage of Prop. 30, government is taking a larger share of the pie.”
He noted that many of the Democratic lawmakers are backed by the strong government worker union in California, and are more extreme in their ideology than most of the citizens they represent.
At a news conference Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said that despite the supermajority in the state legislature he would show restraint.
“Voters have trusted the elected representatives, maybe even trusted me to some extent, and now we’ve got to meet that trust,” Brown said. “We’ve got to make sure over the next few years that we pay our bills, we invest in the right programs, but we don’t go on any spending binges.”
But California lawmakers have been borrowing and accruing debt for the past decade and will need more money to pay for welfare, schools, public pensions, and projects that include high-speed rail and an update to the state’s water system. Even if Brown does keep his promises, the liberal legislature has the power to override his veto.
“We have starved public investment quite enough,” said Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento). “We will look for opportunities to make up for what has been lost, but we need to do so in a smart way … and with humility.”
Democrats plan to use their newfound power by pushing through projects that Republicans have stymied before, including reforming the ballot initiative process, repealing Proposition 13’s tax cap on property, and overhauling the state’s income tax structure. Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) also mentioned the consideration of a constitutional amendment that would legalize same-sex “marriage” in the state.
Analysts said Democrats benefitted from two changes to the election rules this year: a new primary system where the top two candidates go on to the general election, regardless of their party, and the redrawing of district lines that made many races more competitive. California also implemented online voter registration that increased the number of young people on the voter rolls.
But the Republican minority said they wouldn’t give up.
“The voters have spoken, and I respect the voice of the people,” said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Visalia). “By no means should the majority party interpret these results as a mandate. Millions of Californians opposed the governor’s tax hikes and shared our view that job creation is the best revenue generator for the state.”
She added, “Republicans will hold the majority party accountable for delivering their promise to voters that these tax hikes will go to our classrooms and not big government.”