California Democrats appear to have clinched a super majority in the state legislature — control of two-thirds of the seats in both the Senate and Assembly. Such numbers would empower Democrats to raise taxes and expedite fiscal changes though urgency legislation without Republican votes.
Millions of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots are still being counted, and some races are too close to call, but Democratic leaders are confident the numbers will work out for them. Those leaders have claimed they could balance the state budget and solve long-term fiscal problems if they didn’t need Republican cooperation.
That theory could be put to a test in the next legislative session. Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, says a super majority gives Democrats more flexibility — but it also puts the onus on them: "Now, Democrats have to come through and show that they’re a responsible party, as opposed to making excuses."
Stern says a super-majority doesn’t guarantee that more liberal members of the party will vote for a budget plan. Some want to restore funding to health and welfare programs that were cut in back-to-back deficit budgets. They’ll also have to contend with a Governor whose frugality has become the stuff of legends.
Governor Jerry Brown says he’s prepared for push-back, but plans to draw on his days of zen meditation in Japan where he learned that “desires are endless.” And he vowed to resist them every day.
"The desires will always outrun the available money," said Brown on Wednesday. "And that’s why we have a governor. If you have a machine that tends to get overheated or speed up, the governor is a mechanism to slow it down."
Democrats also have to honor the pledge they made to voters who passed Proposition 30 to use the revenues from temporary tax increases to ensure school funding, help balance the state budget and pay down debt. Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles says he will:
"That’s the focus: stabilizing. The reality is that we passed a budget last year that was predicated on the elements that were included in Prop 30. The voters approved Prop 30. We have to deliver on that promise and build our way out of this morass."
GOP lawmakers have promised to hold Democrats to that pledge. Republicans may lose their veto power, says Stern, but in a way that raises the stakes for Democrats to get things right. If they mess up the state’s finances, there will be no Republicans to blame.