Court Decision Changes Dynamic of State Senate Races

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Many of the news stories that reported on the California Supreme Court’s decision to keep the proposed state senate districts as drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in place for 2012 — even though a pending referendum against them likely will qualify for the ballot — focused on the Democrats ability to secure two-thirds of the senate so that they can pass tax increases. This decision and the tax issue will surely alter the rhetoric of state senate campaigns.

A candidate’s view on taxation will be the central issue in swing senate districts. Even though the chatter is that Democratic leaders are looking for a way to raise taxes, don’t expect Democratic candidates to put on their campaign placards: Vote for Jane Smith, She’ll Raise Your Taxes.

Despite mixed results in recent polls, voters are not jumping for joy over the chance to pay more taxes. Debate over the candidates’ position of taxes will highlight many senate campaigns.

This is not to say the Democrats suddenly will decide against raising taxes if they have the two-thirds majority. They have given every indication they have been chomping at the bit to do so. However, it might be easier for Democratic legislators to hail tax increases when they know their Republican colleagues will be there to stop those taxes than to actually face their constituents after they vote for tax increases that will take effect.

A newly Democratic controlled senate will vote for taxes from time to time. Especially, if taxes are perceived to fall on someone else – that famous man behind the tree in the ditty, “don’t tax me, don’t tax thee tax the man behind the tree.” In other words, the rich and the business community better watch out.

The Democratic legislators will also feel pressure from the public employee unions who are for tax increases. Remember the public unions that marched to Sacramento a couple of years ago demanding $40 billion in new taxes? Pressure from the public unions for taxes will be put on Democratic candidates with threats of withholding electoral support if they don’t comply.

But those candidates will have to consider the feelings of the general public on taxes, for it is the voters, not the union leaders, who have the politicians’ fate in their hands.

If Democrats secure the two-thirds vote in the state senate and do vote for tax increases or fee increases in the coming years, taxpayers and the business community should consider this a warning shot across their bow if the Assembly ever goes two-thirds Democratic as well. Reconsider a proposal I suggested last year.

Give the people the final check on tax issues by changing the constitution to allow for referendums on tax measures.

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