Now that Democrats officially control two-thirds of the California Legislature, Assembly Speaker John Perez is downplaying his party's power to raise taxes without Republican votes.
“I’ve talked to a lot of the incoming members of the Assembly and I don’t see any of them moving forward on major tax proposals,” Perez said Thursday.
The Democrats' supermajority became official Wednesday when incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby conceded to Democratic challenger Sharon Quirk-Silva in a newly-drawn district in Orange County.
Democrats now officially wield a supermajority in both state legislative houses for the first time in 70 years. Aside from being able to unilaterally raise taxes, Democratic lawmakers also will be able to expedite bills and change legislative rules.
But the Assembly Speaker downplayed that new power Thursday:
“The job is the same as it’s always been: to focus on continuing to stabilize the economy, to continue to make improvements in our budgetary situation for the state, and focus on business expansion so we can get everybody back to work in California.”
Perez noted that voters have already agreed to raise income and sales taxes this year to prevent cuts to public schools, and voted to close a corporate tax loophole. Together those changes give state lawmakers an estimated $7 billion in new revenue to balance the budget this year. The state's Legislative Analyst Office estimated this week that lawmakers will face a $1.9 billion deficit through June, 2014 — far smaller than in the past six years.
Still, other Democrats are already pushing for increases. Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) plans to introduce a bill to restore the vehicle licensing fee that was slashed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — a change that would triple the cost to car owners. The bill would ask voters to approve the change in 2014.
Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) promised last week that Democrats will use their supermajority wisely, but also hinted that it doesn’t preclude reversing some spending cuts.
“California will hopefully continue on a path towards fiscal balance, with the opportunity to once again reinvest in key public investments whether it be public education, higher education, public safety and health and human services,” Steinberg said.
The supermajority power in both state houses also enables Democrats to override a gubernatorial veto.
At a news conference last week. Gov. Jerry Brown said he’s not lost any leverage. “Just the opposite,” he quipped. Referring to the last gubernatorial override in 1979, during his first term, Brown joked: “I have more experience with veto overrides than any other governor.”
Brown said, if anything, he hopes to use the Democrats' supermajority to reform business regulations, ensure a stable water supply, build high-speed rail, and modify educational standards, teacher evaluations and student testing.
Speaker Perez said he doesn’t expect to see any standoffs over the Governor’s vetoes:
“The way to make things work is to actually try to work together, not to try to engage in divisive activities and pursue a confrontational approach between the legislature and the governor.”
Brown reiterated his promise not to raise taxes without a vote of the people. But he said, “There’s always this business of tax reform.” On that front, Brown said he wouldn’t rule anything out.
A gubernatorial commission and an independent committee have recommended that California reduce its dependence on personal income and sales tax by taxing the purchase of goods and services in the state.